James Michael Tyler, best known as Rachel Green-obsessed barista Gunther on ’90s hit show Friends, has died after a battle with prostate cancer on Sunday. He was 59.
“Michael’s loved ones knew him as an actor, musician, cancer-awareness advocate and loving husband,” his manager said in a statement. “Michael loved live music, cheering on his Clemson Tigers and would often find himself in fun and unplanned adventures. If you met him once, you made a friend for life.”
Tyler revealed in June that he was suffering from stage 4 prostate cancer.
“I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones,” Tyler said on TODAY. “I’ve been dealing with that diagnosis for almost the past three years.” He added, “it’s gonna probably get me.”
By the time of that interview, Tyler could no longer walk, because of tumors up and down his spine. In fact, his health problems are what kept him from attending the highly anticipated Friends reunion special that aired in May 2021, although he did show up in a brief virtual segment. He told host James Corden and his fellow cast members that the sitcom had been “the most memorable 10 years of my life, honestly.”
Marta Kauffman and David Crane, who created the iconic show, issued a statement, saying, “James was a genuinely kind, sweet man. 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.”
Friends castmates, including Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer, also paid tribute to Tyler, who was dubbed “the seventh Friend” by many.
In addition to appearing on 150 episodes of Friends, Tyler also popped up as a guest on sitcoms including Just Shoot Me, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Scrubs and Episodes, alongside his fellow Friends alum Matt LeBlanc.
Tyler spent his early life in Mississippi and Georgia. He graduated from Clemson University in South Carolina and went on to earn an advanced degree from the University of Georgia. He reportedly moved to Los Angeles in the late ’90s, where he worked as a barista. He’s said his experience in that job — he was the only extra who could work an espresso machine — is what helped him land the part that would change his life.
“You know, I honestly always thought my master’s in fine arts would get me further in the acting world than knowing how to work an espresso machine!” he told Digital Spy in August 2018. “That was a happy accident and I’m very, very grateful to have had that skill.”