James Michael Tyler, best known for his Friends role of Central Perk barista Gunther, has revealed that he has Stage 4 prostate cancer, something he has been battling for the last three years in private. The actor appeared on Today this morning and broke the news of the advanced stage of the disease, which was first diagnosed in a routine checkup in 2018.
He has appeared in a message from the Prostate Cancer Foundation, urging men to get checked for the disease and have screenings as early as possible to get an early diagnosis and give themselves the best chance of beating it.
Speaking to Craig Melvin on the show, James Michael Tyler said, “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 years. … It’s Stage 4 (now). Late-stage cancer. So eventually, you know, it’s gonna probably get me.”
Tyler appeared in over 50 episodes of Friends, his first appearance being in the second episode back in 1994 running all the way to the final episode in 2004. He also made an appearance in HBO Max’s Friends: The Reunion. A firm favorite with fans of the sitcom, the news of his illness will come as sad revelation to many who still are devoted to the show almost 20 years since its last episode aired.
Talking about his original diagnosis, Tyler went on to say how even though caught on an annual screening, the cancer was not discovered early enough to prevent it progressing through other parts of his body.
“I was 56 years old at the time, and they screen for PSA, which is prostate-specific antigen,” Tyler continued. “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.'”
Tyler was able go about regularly for about a year thanks to hormone treatment, which consisted of three drugs, and while they had been optimistic about his condition early on, the spread to his bones and spine led to paralysis of the lower body and it was right around the time of the Covid19 pandemic arriving that the cancer became more aggressive.
“All I had to do was take a pill in the morning and the night, and boom, life was pretty much normal,” explained Tyler, noting that he had even appeared on TODAY during that period for another “Friends” reunion. “… I had it then, but (was) able to function normally. … I was feeling fine, honestly. I had no symptoms, I didn’t feel any symptoms. And it was very easy to regulate. I missed going in for a test, which was not a good thing. So the cancer decided to mutate at the time of the pandemic, and so it’s progressed.”
While screening recommendations vary depending on ethnicity, age and various other factors, Tyler emphasised that an early diagnosis is still the best way to deal with the disease. “A lot of men, if they catch this early, it’s easily treatable,” Tyler said. “I don’t want people to have to go through what I’ve been going through. This is not … an easy process.”
Tyler also expressed his disappointment at not being able to take part in person in the HBO Max Friends Reunion, instead having to appear via a zoom connection. He revealed that many of the cast know of his illness, as do the producers of the show, and he has been grateful for their support. “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,” he 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.'”
He ended by saying how his goal in announcing the illness was to “save just one life” by making people aware of how important screening and early diagnosis are. He said, “”It’s made me, personally, just realize how important every moment is, every day. And fighting. Don’t give up. Keep fighting. Keep yourself as light as possible. And have goals. Set goals. My goal this past year was to see my 59th birthday. I did that, May 28th. My goal now is to help save at least one life by coming out with this news.”
We wish him well with his treatment, and thought are with him as he fights such a terrible disease. His message from the Prostate Cancer Foundation can be viewed below. This news was first covered at Deadline.