The long-awaited Friends reunion finally arrived on HBO Max last month, and it included special appearances from fan-favorite stars and famous fans who stopped by the famed Warner Bros. backlot and the instantly recognizable fountain from the opening credits. One such appearance from Gunther actor James Michael Tyler brought joy to both those in the reunion's audience as well as those watching at home, despite coming via Zoom instead of in person. Some wondered why Tyler didn't make a physical appearance, and it turns out there's a pretty heartbreaking reason behind those circumstances.
James Michael Tyler recurred on Friends as the sarcastic coffee shop employee Gunther throughout the show’s ten-season run, making his appearance on the reunion special a necessity. Since it was filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary to see a Zoom-related appearance, but considering everyone else who showed up, from Tom Selleck to Maggie Wheeler, fans were surprised when Tyler only appeared remotely. But the actor revealed to TODAY the real reason wasn't COVID-related, but was still quite painful, to say the least. In his words:
I’m here to let you know that in September of 2018, I was diagnosed with Advanced Prostate Cancer, which had spread to my bones. I’ve been dealing with that diagnosis for almost the past three year. . . . For my specific prognosis, of course it’s Stage 4. Late-stage cancer. So eventually, you know, it’s gonna probably get me.
While Tyler was able to cope and deal with his prostate cancer diagnosis early on thanks to hormone therapy, things took a downward spiral during the pandemic, with tumors spreading across his spine and other areas. Eventually, James Michael Tyler lost the ability to walk and use his legs. Although the illness did cause him to opt against appearing in-person at the Friends reunion, Tyler says he still wanted to be part of it in some way and keep spirits alive:
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 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? I didn’t want to be like, ‘Oh, and by the way, Gunther has cancer.’
Even though James Michael Tyler didn’t appear in person on the Friends reunion, his former costars and producers sound like they're being supportive. Tyler said this when asked if others knew about his condition:
At this point, I’m sure. David Schwimmer has corresponded with me via Instagram. The producers are aware. They’ve been aware for a long time.
The Friends cast members have always been close to one another since the show ended, despite not making public appearances, so it’s not surprising that they would reach out to James Michael Tyler about his health. It’s heartbreaking what he’s going through, but he’s also hoping by sharing his story he can save at least one life by convincing men in their 40s to get prostate exams, which is definitely more important than showing up to a reunion special. Our thoughts are with Tyler as he continues his recovery.