Sitcoms are littered with supporting characters who, while not a part of the main cast and hardly household names, still become integral parts of the show.
Wilson on Home Improvement, Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Rec, Gary on Cheers. Gunther was one such character on Friends, the ever-present barista at Central Perk, waiting on the six friends and nursing a series-long crush on Rachel. If you’ve seen even a handful of episodes of the classic 90s sitcom, you know Gunther, even if he rarely had any lines.
Over the weekend, Gunther, aka actor James Michael Tyler, passed away from prostate cancer at the age of 59.
“If you met him once you made a friend for life,” a statement from his manager read. “[He] is survived by his wife, Jennifer Carno, the love of his life.”
Tyler had made his battle public in June, not long after he appeared on the Friends reunion special on HBO Max. He had planned to appear on stage with his costars, but because of his health, the actor had to film his appearance via video.
“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,” Tyler told Today in June. “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? I didn’t want to be like, ‘Oh, and by the way, Gunther has cancer.'”
The producers of the show knew, and Tyler had communicated with David Schwimmer over Instagram. Tyler had wanted to use his fame to help people get the treatment they needed.
“Wanting to help as many people as possible, he bravely shared his story and became a campaigner for those with a prostate to get a… blood test as early as 40-years-old,” his manager said.
He may not have played a huge role on Friends, but he used his fame to play an even more important one.
“My goal this past year was to see my 59th birthday,” Tyler said. “I did that. My goal now is to help at least save one life.”