Friends' James Michael Tyler Dead at 59 Following Stage 4 Prostate Cancer Diagnosis
Tyler, who played Central Perk barista Gunther on the hit show, revealed his diagnosis for the first time in mid-June, about three years after his treatment began in 2018.
He famously starred alongside Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, and Matthew Perry on the NBC sitcom for ten years across 150 episodes. Gunther was even included as the seventh Friend in the 2019 LEGO set featuring the iconic coffee shop.
"I'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," Tyler shared on Today in June, noting at the time that he was undergoing chemotherapy.
He explained he was placed on a hormone therapy that "worked amazingly" for a year or so, but "right at the time of the pandemic" last year the cancer "progressed" and spread throughout his body, affecting his spine, which led to paralysis of his lower body.
The next day, Tyler's manager and friend, Toni Benson, opened up to PEOPLE about his positive attitude throughout his cancer treatment, sharing that despite going "through some rough times," "he wants to live."
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"Though he's wheelchair bound, he's very mobile," she said at the time. "He has the most amazing attitude."
The news of his diagnosis came after Tyler appeared virtually on the HBO Max Friends reunion special, which premiered in May. The fan-favorite said he still wanted to be part of the event, even if not in-person.
"I wanted to be a part of that, and initially I was going to be on the stage, at least, with them, and be able to take part in all the festivities. It was bittersweet, honestly. I was very happy to be included. 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, you know?" he told Today. "... I didn't want to be like, 'Oh, and by the way, Gunther has cancer.' "
In addition to Friends, Tyler had various guest starring roles on TV shows, including Sabrina the Teenage Witch in 2001 and Scrubs in 2005. In 2013, he played the main lead in the series Modern Music. Despite undergoing treatment, the actor also starred in two short films — The Gesture and the Word and Processing — where he won best actor awards at multiple film festivals.
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Up until his death, Tyler advocated for greater awareness and education regarding prostate cancer, emphasizing on Today that the illness is "easily treatable" if it's caught early. He said he hopes to "help save at least one life by coming out with this news" and encouraged people to get a PSA screening, which is a prostate-specific antigen test, to detect the disease early on.
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"I don't want people to have to go through what I've been going through," Tyler said. "This is not … an easy process."
He later added: "It's made me, personally, just realize how important every moment is, every day. And fighting. Don't give up. Keep fighting. Keep yourself as light as possible. And have goals. Set goals."
Per his official obituary, Tyler is survived by the love of his life, wife Jennifer Carno, "ever united in good times, in sickness, and for eternity."