Actor James Michael Tyler, who played sarcastic Central Perk manager Gunther in all ten seasons of Friends, reveals he has stage 4 prostate cancer. Tyler opened up about his diagnosis Monday during a virtual appearance on TODAY, explaining his illness prevented him from appearing in person for the Friends: The Reunion special that aired on HBO Max last month. The actor, whose credits include roles in the television shows Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Scrubs, was diagnosed in September 2018 but now says his cancer mutated "right at the time of the pandemic."
"I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones," Tyler shared with TODAY. "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."
"I was 56 years old at the time, and they screen for PSA, which is prostate-specific antigen," Tyler added. "That came back at an extraordinarily high number ... So I knew immediately when I went online and I saw the results of my blood test and blood work that there was obviously something quite wrong there. Nearly immediately, my doctor called me and said 'Hey, I need you to come in tomorrow because I suspect that you may have quite a serious problem with your prostate.'"
Hormone therapy "worked amazingly for about a year," and Tyler was able to "function normally." But the cancer spread to his bones and spine when it mutated "right at the time of the pandemic," causing paraplegia, or paralysis of the legs and lower body.
"I missed going in for a test, which was not a good thing," Tyler said. "So the cancer decided to mutate at the time of the pandemic, and so it's progressed." As he undergoes chemotherapy that is "aggressively" fighting his illness, Tyler is speaking out for awareness around screenings and early diagnosis.
Actor James Michael Tyler (@slate_michael) played Gunther on “Friends” for 10 years, but he was unable to attend the recent cast reunion in person because he’s been battling a serious health issue. Now he’s sharing his news for the first time with @craigmelvin. pic.twitter.com/272tg4Sbvc— TODAY (@TODAYshow) June 21, 2021
"There are other options available to men if they catch it before me," Tyler said. "Next time you go in for just a basic exam or your yearly checkup, please ask your doctor for a PSA test. It's easily detectable. ... If it spreads beyond the prostate to the bones, which is most prevalent in my form, it can be a lot more difficult to deal with."
Tyler revealed he decided to appear virtually over Zoom at the Friends reunion, where cast members Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer, and Matt LeBlanc reunited for an unscripted special 17 years after the series finale of Friends.
"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 said. "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.'"
Tyler said the cast and producers of Friends are aware of his illness, and that Schwimmer has been in touch with him over Instagram. On his decision to share his diagnosis, Tyler said he hopes to "save just one life" by speaking out.
"That's my only reason for coming out like this and letting people know," he said. "That's my new role."
Tyler also shared his story with the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which "funds the world's most promising research to improve the prevention, detection and treatment of prostate cancer and ultimately cure it for good."