Nikki Idelson ’22
James Michael Tyler, the actor well-known for his role as Gunther on the television show Friends, died on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, at the age of 59. According to The New York Times, “the cause [of his death] was prostate cancer, which was diagnosed in September 2018.” Tyler fought a long and hard battle, all the while sharing his story to spread awareness about prostate cancer.
Friends debuted in the 90s and ran for 10 seasons. It follows the lives of six friends living in Manhattan as they go through life together. This description of the show encapsulates why it was and continues to be incredibly popular. Indeed, viewers feel as though they can relate to the characters and their everyday life experiences. Tyler played Gunther, a barista at Central Perk, where the friends spent a great deal of time. The character’s most notable trait was his deep crush on Rachel, played by Jennifer Aniston. While he was not one of the “friends,” he was still widely regarded as having a prominent role in the show. According to The New York Times, “he appeared in 150 episodes.”
However, Tyler was not always an actor. He was born in Mississippi on May 28, 1962 and was the youngest of five children. He attended Clemson University for his undergraduate degree. Then, according to The New York Times, “he earned a master’s of fine arts from the University of Georgia and moved to Los Angeles after a brief stint of selling cars in Olympia, Washington.” He went on to become a barista, which is when he was discovered by the creators of Friends, Marta Kauffman and David Crane. In a 2012 interview with the Times, Tyler explained that he was “working as a barista for a place called the Bourgeois Pig, one of the last independent coffee houses in Los Angeles.”
Tyler was beloved by everyone that he worked with, including Kauffman and Crane. They released the following statement in the wake of Tyler’s death: “When he started as an extra on Friends, his unique spirit caught our eye and we knew we had to make him a character.” At the beginning of his appearance on the show, he was mainly an extra; throughout the ten seasons of Friends, however, he grew to develop a more prominent role that helped to complete the show. Kauffman and Crane also said that Tyler’s performance was essential to the show because “he made Gunther’s unrequited love incredibly relatable.” Such aspects of Tyler’s performance made him a fan favorite.
Tyler was not just beloved for his role in Friends, but also for how he carried out his day-to-day life. According to CNN, his representative released a statement following his death that proclaimed, “Michael’s loved ones knew him as an actor, musician, cancer-awareness advocate, and loving husband.”
It is clear that Tyler touched the lives of his fans, friends, and family. For those who are interested in seeing his most recent work, make sure to check out the short films The Gesture and the Word and Processing. James Michael Tyler will be dearly missed.