Tyler died “peacefully in his home” on Sunday, according to a statement from his longtime manager Toni Benson. The actor starred in 150 “Friends” episodes as Gunther, who carried an unrequited love for Rachel (Jennifer Aniston).
“The world knew him as Gunther the seventh ‘Friend,’ but Michael’s loved ones knew him as an actor, musician, cancer-awareness advocate, and loving husband,” the statement said.
“Friends” co-creator Jeffrey Klarik tweeted Sunday that Tyler “was a lovely, lovely man. Today is a very sad day.”
In June, the actor revealed he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment after being diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer.
“I’m sorry to say that I’m not appearing today with you to announce that there’s a ‘Friends’ movie,” Tyler told the “Today” show. “Actually, I’m here to let you know that in September of 2018, I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.”
James Michael Tyler: Gunther on ‘Friends,’ reveals Stage 4 prostate cancer diagnosis
Tyler had hoped to attend the HBO Max “Friends” reunion in May, but said he withdrew from appearing because of his health.
“I wanted to be a part of that, and initially I was going to be on the stage,” Tyler explained. “It was my decision not to be a part of that physically and make an appearance on Zoom, basically, because I didn’t wanna bring a downer on it. I didn’t want to be like, ‘Oh, and by the way, Gunther has cancer.’ “
The “Friends” official Twitter account paid tribute Sunday, saying production company Warner Bros. Television “mourns the loss of James Michael Tyler, a beloved actor and integral part of our FRIENDS family. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, colleagues and fans.”
Tyler’s doctors discovered his cancer during a routine physical, in which he took his first prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. Though his early prognosis was “optimistic,” Tyler said the cancer mutated during the pandemic, spreading to his bones and spine, resulting in his inability to walk.
“It’s Stage 4, late stage cancer, so eventually, it’s gonna probably get me,” Tyler told “Today.” While he expressed regret for not getting tested sooner, Tyler became an advocate for early testing.
“My goal this past year was to see my 59th birthday. I did that,” he said. “My goal now is to help save at least one life by coming out with this news.”
The Clemson University graduate had worked as a barista at Los Angeles’ Bourgeois Pig coffee shop. The aspiring actor made appearances on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Just Shoot Me!” before landing the career-changing “Friends” role.
While undergoing treatment, Tyler starred in two award-winning short films: “The Gesture and the Word” and “Processing.”
“Even three days ago, he said to me how proud he was to win awards for his short films,” Benson said.
In 2021, Tyler’s spoken word performance of Stephen Kalinich’s poem “If You Knew” was adapted into a short video to raise awareness for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Tyler is survived by his wife, Jennifer Carno, who was described the statement as the “the love of his life, ever united in good times, in sickness, and for eternity.”
Contributing: Jenna Ryu