Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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Friends Actor, James Michael Tyler is Dead at 59

James Michael Tyler has passed away at 59 after a protracted battle with prostate cancer.

The actor who played the character of Gunther, the neglected Central Perk barista on all 10 seasons of Friends, died on Sunday morning at his home in Los Angeles. His longtime friend and manager, Toni Benson, who described him as someone who loved live music and the Clemson Tigers confirmed the news

Friends co-creators, Marta Kauffman and David Crane paid tribute to the actor.

“James was a genuinely kind, sweet man,” they said in a joint statement. “When he started as an extra on Friends, his unique spirit caught our eye and we knew we had to make him a character. He made Gunther’s unrequited love incredibly relatable. Our heart goes out to his wife, Jennifer Carno.”

Jennifer Aniston also paid tribute to Tyler on Instagram with a clip where Gunther tells her character, Rachel, that he’s in love with her. In the caption, she wrote:
“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.”

Tyler announced on the Today show in June that he had stage 4 prostate cancer that had spread to his bones; he said he was first diagnosed in September 2018 during a routine physical.

“My goal this past year was to see my 59th birthday. I did that,” he said. “My goal now [by revealed his illness and advocating for checkups] is to at least save one life.”

He shared his story to encourage those with a prostate to get a first PSA blood test as early as 40 years old.

Tyler was working as a barista at the Bourgeois Pig coffee shop on Franklin Avenue near Hollywood when he was asked to stand in the background and work the levers of the Central Perk espresso machine on the NBC sitcom.

It took him two seasons and 33 appearances before he got his first line of dialogue and for his character to get a name, according to Saul Austerlitz’s 2019 book, Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era.

Tyler would show up on 150 of the 236 episodes of the show, from the second installment that first aired in September 1994 to “The Last One” on May 6, 2004. No other actor recurred more often.

Tyler regrettably was on the outside again when he reconnected — but only via Zoom — with Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc on the Friends HBO Max reunion special that premiered in May 2021.

He said it was his decision not to appear in person. “I didn’t wanna bring a downer on it, you know?” he said.

James Michael Tyler was born on May 28, 1962, in Winona, Mississippi. After his father, a retired Air Force captain, died when he was 10 and his mother, a homemaker, died when he was 11, he went to live with his sister in Anderson, South Carolina.

He acted in student plays at Clemson University, where he graduated with a degree in geology in 1984, then received a master’s in fine arts from the University of Georgia three years later.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1988, and appeared on such shows as Just Shoot Me! Sabrina the Teenage Witch but his biggest role was as Gunther in Friends.

He is survived by his second wife, script coordinator, Jennifer Carno.

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