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James Michael Tyler: In Memoriam

by Conor O'Brien
James Michael Tyler

Friends actor James Michael Tyler, who played Gunther, has died at 59. Here’s a look back at his career on the hit NBC sitcom, which ran for 10 seasons.

Although Central Perk barista (later manager) Gunther was never a regular character on Friends, he was still very important.

Aside from the six leads, Gunther was the only other character to appear in all 10 seasons. The hit NBC sitcom ran from 1994, with Gunther evolving from a background character with no lines to a regular supporting cast member. Gunther further evolved from being Rachel’s superior at Central Perk to harbouring a secret crush on her for many years.

James Michael Tyler played the role of Gunther for the entire run. Due to his character’s job, he often shared scenes with Jennifer Aniston (Rachel Green), Matt LeBlanc (Joey Tribbiani) and David Schwimmer (Ross Geller), among others.

Sadly, James Michael Tyler passed away at 59 years of age on October 24. He previously revealed his battle with prostate cancer earlier in 2021 but had first been diagnosed back in 2018.

Friends: James Michael Tyler as Gunther with Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston (Image courtesy of NBC)

Tyler elaborated on his diagnosis in a June 2021 interview with Today, saying at the time, “I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones. ‘ve been dealing with that diagnosis for almost the past three years. It’s stage 4 (now). Late stage cancer. So eventually, you know, it’s gonna probably get me.”

Even some of the most ardent Friends fans may be unaware of James Michael Tyler’s unusual route to the show. Much like his character, Tyler had worked in coffee shops in real life. He was able to put these skills to good use when needed to operate the Central Perk coffee machine.

In fact, Gunther’s iconic hair was unintentional. The night before his first appearance on Friends, one of Tyler’s own friends attempted to dye his naturally brown hair. Due to the positive reception from the producers, Tyler kept the look for 10 years.

Image courtesy of Showtime

As Friends fans will know, there has been no follow-up since the show ended in 2004. Therefore, Tyler did not reprise the role of Gunther after the series finale, titled “The Last One“.

However, he did manage to stay connected to the show in other ways. For instance, Tyler guest-starred as himself in an episode of Matt LeBlanc’s sitcom Episodes. He also appeared over Zoom for the Friends Reunion which aired in May 2021.

In 2014, Tyler made appearances in Central Perk replicas to honour the show’s 20th anniversary.

In his real-life; Tyler was married twice. He first married Barbara Chadsey in 1995, one year into Friends. However, they divorced in 2014. He would later marry Jennifer Carno in 2017, who survives him.

Image courtesy of NBC

In addition to fans around the world, James Michael Tyler’s co-stars also paid their respects once news of his death broke.

Jennifer Aniston wrote on Instagram: “Friends would not have been the same without you. Thank you for the laughter you brought to the show and to all of our lives. You will be so missed #JamesMichaelTyler“.

Meanwhile, Courteney Cox (who played Monica) shared “The size of gratitude you brought into the room and showed every day on set is the size of the gratitude I hold for having known you. Rest In peace James.”

David Schwimmer, who played Gunther’s unknowing ‘love rival’ Ross Geller, also paid tribute to Tyler. He wrote on Instagram: “James, thank you for playing such a wonderful, unforgettable role in Friends and for being such a big hearted gentleman and all around mensch off screen. You will be missed, buddy. #JamesMichaelTyler.”

Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe Buffay) and Matt LeBlanc (Joey Tribbiani) also shared tributes on Instagram.

May he Rest in Peace.

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