James Michael Tyler, who played the deadpan, startled barista Gunther on Friends, died Sunday of prostate cancer at his Los Angeles home, his longtime manager said. He was 59 years old.
Mr. Tyler was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in September 2018, according to his manager Tony Benson. After being diagnosed, Mr. Tyler shared his story to encourage others to get screened for prostate cancer as early as 40 years old.
Friends helped launch a star-studded cast that included Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer. It debuted on NBC in the fall of 1994, ran for ten years, and typically amassed 25 to 30 million viewers each week.
Although Mr. Tyler was not the main character, he was considered by many to be the “seventh friend” and, according to IMDB.com, he appeared in 150 episodes. He played the role of Gunther, a barista in Central Perk, a hangout of friends who had a deep crush on Miss Aniston’s character, Rachel, who also worked at the cafe.
Mr. Tyler’s path to the show was accidental. When he was working as a real barista in a real coffee shop, he was asked if he would be interested in becoming an extra on Friends. In the first season, his character was known as “The Coffee Guy.”
“At the time, I also worked as a barista at a place called Bourgeois Pig, one of the last independent cafes in Los Angeles,” Tyler told The New York Times in 2012. In the second season, he received a line of dialogue, “Yes,” he said when Mr. Schwimmer’s character Ross asked him if his apartment had a staircase.
Mr. Tyler was born on May 28, 1962 in Winona, Mississippi. According to a biography on IMDB.com, Mr. Tyler was the youngest of five children, raised by a retired Air Force captain and housewife. He moved to Anderson, South Carolina to live with his sister at age 11 and attended Clemson University with a degree in geology. According to his biography, he earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Georgia and moved to Los Angeles after a brief car sale in Olympia, Washington.
“Michael loved live music, was a fan of his Clemson Tigers and often got into fun and unplanned adventures,” Ms Benson said in a statement. “If you met him once, you become a lifelong friend.”
In June, Mr. Tyler publicly announced that he had prostate cancer. He told Today that he was surrounded by an “unusual” support group and that many people were praying for his health.
“It made me personally just understand how important every moment, every day,” said Mr. Tyler. “And the fight. Do not give up. Keep on fighting. Hold on as light as possible. And have goals. Set goals. Last year my goal was to see my 59th birthday. I did it on May 28th. My goal now is to help save at least one life by posting this news. “
During treatment, Mr. Tyler continued to perform and starred in two short films, Gesture and Word and Handling, gaining acclaim at film festivals, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Among Mr. Tyler’s survivors is his wife Jennifer Carnot. The complete list of survivors is not immediately available.