James Michael Tyler has passed away. The beloved actor had roles in Scrubs and Sabrina The Teenage Witch, but he’s best known for playing the barista Gunther on Friends. Were it not for a unique ability, Tyler likely would’ve only had one appearance on the legendary show, instead of 148.
A History Of Tyler
Tyler grew up in Mississippi, the youngest of five children. He lost both his parents by age 11 and moved to South Carolina with his sister. Soon thereafter, he found a passion for acting and earned an MFA at the University of Georgia in 1987.
Like thousands if not millions of others, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his acting dream. To make ends meet he worked as a barista. The actor’s big break came largely from coincidence: while working behind the counter, he was asked if he’d like to audition for Friends.
Break Came From Coincidence
His talent with the espresso machine got him the role of Gunther. In 2018, Tyler spoke to Digital Spy about his unique break. “You know, I honestly always thought my Master in Fine Arts would get me further in the acting world than knowing how to work an espresso machine! That was a happy accident and I’m very, very grateful to have had that skill.” The bit role eventually led to Gunther essentially becoming the seventh “Friend.” He even got his own Lego minifig.
Part of what made Gunther stand out was his dyed white hair. This was a coincidence as well. Tyler didn’t usually keep his hair white. He explained, “I have a friend who wanted to practice on my head because they wanted to be a stylist. So I offered what hair I had left to turn white. That was a happy coincidence!” Tyler didn’t enjoy having to bleach his hair every week for a decade, but thinks “it was quite necessary and it definitely completed the character.”
A Lovely Guy
He called Jennifer Aniston “an absolutely wonderful human being and a terrific actor.” The kindness went both ways. Aniston posted a tribute to Tyler on her Instagram, thanking him for “the laughter you brought to the show and to all of our lives.”
Through this entire interview, Tyler comes off as a nice guy who really appreciated tagging along for one of the biggest shows in television history. He sings the praises of his co-stars but didn’t push for either a Friends reunion or a Gunther-themed spinoff. His cancer precluded him from making an in-person appearance at the Friends reunion, but he still appeared via Zoom. Friends is so ubiquitous that it immortalizes Tyler.