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Tyler, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018, opened up about his struggles to Today in June. He confirmed the “late-stage cancer” had spread to his bones and spine, leading to paralysis of his lower body.
“So eventually, you know, it’s gonna probably get me,” he said.
“All I had to do was take a pill in the morning and the night, and boom — life was pretty much normal,” he told Craig Melvin. He said the cancer mutated “right at the time of the pandemic.”
Tyler was born in Greenwood, Mississippi on May 28, 1962, the youngest of five children. By the age of 12, he had suffered the loss of both of his parents. He moved to live with a sister in South Carolina.
His love of acting blossomed during his time at Clemson University where he got a degree in geology in 1984 while performing as part of the student theater group. Four years later, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked in Hollywood as a production assistant and assistant film editor.
He joined the cast of Friends in 1994 in the role of Gunther, a barista at Central Perk who harbored a crush on Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel. He appeared in more than 50 episodes of the popular sitcom through the 2004 finale. Gunther was often considered the unofficially 7th friend by fans.
Tyler also appeared virtually in the show’s HBO Max reunion which aired in May.
“James was a genuinely kind, sweet man,” Friends co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane said in a statement. “When he started as an extra on Friends, his unique spirit caught our eye and we knew we had to make him a character. He made Gunther’s unrequited love incredibly relatable. Our heart goes out to his wife, Jennifer Carno.”
Other credits include appearances in Just Shoot Me!, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Scrubs, and Episodes.
While undergoing treatment, Michael continued to perform and starred in two short films – The Gesture and the Word, and Processing—winning best-actor awards at various domestic and international film festivals. In 2021, his 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.
Michael is survived by his wife, Jennifer Carno.
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