James Michael Tyler, who played Gunther on “Friends,” reveals prostate cancer diagnosis

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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 16: Actor James Michael Tyler attends the Central Perk Pop-Up Celebrating The 20th Anniversary Of "Friends" on September 16, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 16: Actor James Michael Tyler attends the Central Perk Pop-Up Celebrating The 20th Anniversary Of “Friends” on September 16, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

(CBS) — Actor James Michael Tyler, who played Gunther on the TV sitcom “Friends,” revealed Monday that he has been battling prostate cancer. Tyler, who appeared virtually on the “Friends Reunion” for HBO Max, said in an interview with the Today Show that his cancer had advanced to other parts of his body.

“I’ve been dealing with that diagnosis for almost the past three years,” Tyler said. “It’s stage 4. Late-stage cancer. So eventually, you know, it’s gonna probably get me.”

Tyler said the prostate cancer has spread to his bones. He was at an annual checkup when the cancer as first caught. “I was 56 years old at the time, and they screen for PSA, which is prostate-specific antigen,” Tyler said.

“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 said.

He has undergone hormone therapy, which for about a year helped him to “go about life regularly” while taking also taking three drugs.

He said he felt no symptoms at first, but during the pandemic he missed a test and his cancer mutated. 

Toni Benson, Tyler’s longtime manager and friend, told CBS News he is undergoing chemo and doing very well. “The first round was exhausting. This one seems to be a little easier, but still needing time to get to the other side of it,” Benson said, adding that Tyler’s attitude is “amazing.” 

Prostate cancer, one of the most common types of cancer, often grows slowly and stays confined to the prostate gland, according to the Mayo Clinic. However other types of prostate cancer are aggressive and can spread quickly.

While low-grade prostate cancer may not need treatment right away or ever, prostate cancer can be treated by removing the prostate or with radiation therapy, chemotherapy and other treatments, according to Mayo Clinic.

Prostate cancer in particular is almost 99% treatable if detected early and those with a history of prostate, ovarian, breast, colon or pancreatic cancers among your male and female relatives should begin to discuss screening starting at about 40 years old, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

African American men also have a greater risk of developing prostate cancer and should begin talking to their doctor about screening at age 40. 

Tyler said the reason he did not appear at the “Friends” reunion in person was because of his illness. 

“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,” said Tyler, who appeared via Zoom. “It was bittersweet, honestly. I was very happy to be included.”

He said it was his decision not to be there in person or explain why. “I didn’t want to be like, ‘Oh, and by the way, Gunther has cancer,'” he said, adding that many of the former cast mates did know about his illness.

He hopes sharing his story can “save just one life,” saying that is his “new role.”

First published on June 21, 2021 / 12:26 PM

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