There are some actors who hate being too heavily associated with a single role. James Michael Tyler, who died at the age of 59, was not one of those actors.
While some Friends stars tried to shake off their former characters and move on with their careers after the series ended in 2004, Tyler always seemed relaxed about being known as Gunther.
The Central Perk cafe waiter and manager has gradually become a fan favorite over the sitcom’s 10 years. And long after the show ended, Tyler maintained close ties to the Friends brand.
He spoke to the press whenever the Friends set toured the world. He posed for selfies and signed autographs when stopped by fans of the show. “From time to time, I still get recognized as Gunther, which is fine with me.” he said in 2018.
As an actor, Tyler didn’t have a large number of other film and television credits to his name. But he once again appeared alongside Matt LeBlanc in the BBC comedy Episodes in 2012, as part of a storyline in which Joey’s actor attempted (and largely failed) to reunite the other Friends stars.
After the six main stars, Gunther was the character with the most appearances on Friends, popping up in 185 episodes – more than Janice, Carol, Susan, Phoebe’s husband Mike, and Ross and Monica’s parents, Jack and Judy. put together.
- Friends actor James Michael Tyler dies at 59
That said, he didn’t necessarily speak up in every episode he appeared in. Tyler often wasn’t even credited because Gunther was simply seen in the background, behind the counter, particularly in the early years. He initially got the work on Friends because he knew how to operate a coffee machine.
But he’s been gradually given more and more material over the years, delivering killer lines in his character’s funny way.
To remember the actor and the part he played, here are some of Gunther’s best moments:
1. His debut on Friends
Where else could we start?
Sure, Gunther’s first appearance on the comedy series wasn’t much to write home about. He was seen working at Central Perk in the second episode of the first season, The One With The Sonogram.
His first line of dialogue ever didn’t make it until the 33rd episode, and even then he only had one word to say. “Yup.”
“Before that, I had a kind of feeling that Gunther was sleeping in the back of Central Perk, in the closet. But I didn’t create a complete backstory for him until much later in the series,” Tyler recalled.
In his first speaking scene, Ross offered him the slinky he had originally bought for Rachel. “Hey Gunther, do you have the stairs for you?” Ross asked. “Yes,” Gunther replied. “Go crazy,” Ross said, handing him the stretchy toy.
2. Obsessed with Rachel
There are a million great scenes that we could include in this section, because the main trait of Gunther’s personality was his total adoration for the character of Jennifer Aniston.
Sometimes his love for her escaped his talk. At other times, we have heard his inner monologue as a voiceover. Either way, the poor bartender never seemed to take a break.
- “What does Rachel see in this boy?” he thinks to himself in one episode as she sits politely to listen to one of Ross’s dinosaur stories. “I love Rachel, I wish she was my wife,” he adds.
- In another episode, we hear him mentally take the courage to ask, “Say Rachel, I was wondering if you’d like to go to the movies with me sometime … like my lover.“Before he decides against it, saying to himself,” Nah, even out there. “
- In another episode, he yells “Idiot!” to Joshua for turning down Rachel’s marriage proposal.
- When Rachel is looking for someone to hug in her excitement of completing a crossword puzzle, Gunther dives towards her in a great piece of physical comedy, eventually crashing to the floor.
Seriously, Gunther played a key role in Ross and Rachel’s breakup in Series 3, when he told her Ross had been unfaithful.
3. Don’t drive a Porsche
When Joey found a set of Porsche keys in Central Perk, he initially asked Gunther if they were his.
“Yes, that’s what I drive,” Gunther replied sarcastically. “I make four dollars an hour. I’ve been saving for 350 years.”
This interaction acted as a stepping stone for the rest of the episode’s plot, which saw Joey pretend the car was his to impress passing women.
4. Her unchanging hairstyle
Gunther’s blond-white hair was his trademark, but it was never meant to be that color. One of Tyler’s friends tried to dye it the night before her audition, and it didn’t go as planned.
But it clearly didn’t hurt the actor. In fact, his showy hair likely played a big part in helping the actor grab the attention of viewers in the early years when he was essentially an extra.
Unfortunately for him, the producers liked it a lot too, which means Tyler had to keep bleaching his hair every week for 10 years.
Not that Joey realized it on the show, of course. When Gunther told him in one episode that he had gone to dye his hair, Joey replied, “Oh really? But I like your natural color.”
5. Tell Ross he’s an “ezel”
When Ross attempted to learn Dutch to impress an apartment landlord, he practiced some new phrases about Gunther, who was fluent.
But when Ross abruptly broke the conversation, Gunther ended up calling him “ezel”. Ross had to search for this to find that it had just been called a donkey, or donkey. When he finally found the translation, he said, “Hey Gunther, you’re an ezel. “
Gunther was too smart for him, though, replying, “Jij hebt seks met ezels (have sex with asses)”, leaving Ross perplexed once again.
6. Outbursts in the closet
It must have been painful for poor Gunther to see Rachel being invited on a date by another man in Season 3, right under his nose.
Then he made his way to the cafeteria closet, out of sight of onlookers. The next thing we heard was the sound of an all-powerful crash, with Gunther obviously shattering large quantities of glasses and crockery in anger.
When he returned to the cafeteria floor, he was greeted with stunned silence by the other customers. “I dropped a cup,” he explained, unconvincing.
7. Uphold standards of decency
Gunther helped Phoebe out of a particularly difficult situation involving a man she was dating in the third series.
His partner Robert wore very baggy shorts and, as a result, took a look at those around him.
Robert’s involuntary flashing left Chandler, Joey and Ross helpless with laughter, but neither they nor Phoebe wanted to bring it up with him.
Fortunately, when Gunther approached their table, he quickly said to Robert, “Hey man, this is a family place. Put the mouse back in the house.”
In 2015, Tyler was interviewed on Central Perk’s famous orange sofa by Good morning Great Britain, where he revealed it was his all-time favorite line.
8. … and respecting the “no smoking” rule. Mostly.
“Oh, no, no, there’s none of that in here,” Gunther told Chandler when he tried to smoke a cigarette at Central Perk.
Chandler replied, “Oh, come on, at least let me finish this one.”
Gunther thought before offering a compromise. “OK, but only if you give me a shot.”
Breathing in Chandler’s cigarette, he uttered one of his most memorable lines: “Oh oh, brunette mother. Once again I suck your smoky nipple.”
9. He was a soap star
Joey needed a shoulder to cry on when he found himself unemployed in Season 2. Walking into Central Perk for coffee, she told Gunther that the producers of the television soap she starred in, Days of Our Lives, had killed her character.
“Too bad. How did they do it?” a nice Gunther asked. “I fell into an elevator shaft,” Joey explained.
Gunther replied: “How disgusting. I was buried in an avalanche.” After Joey’s confusion, he explained: “I was Bryce in All My Children”.
It was a funny indication of Gunther’s past and a reminder that in New York you are never far from an unemployed actor.
10. Tyler’s appearance at the meeting
When the cast of Friends got back together for the much-heralded reunion in early 2021, several supporting cast members joined them to celebrate.
It’s a testament to Tyler’s importance to the show that he was the only star who was allowed to appear through Zoom, rather than in person.
We now know, of course, that Tyler was struggling with his mobility. Cancer had made him unable to walk and he used a wheelchair at home, even though he was not visible at the meeting.
“It was the most memorable 10 years of my life, honestly,” he told presenter James Corden. “I couldn’t have imagined a better experience. All these guys have been fantastic. It was a joy to work with them. I felt very, very special.”
11. Say goodbye to Rachel
As Friends drew to a close, Gunther finally found the courage to confess his feelings for Rachel before she left for Paris.
Gunther said, “I know you’re leaving tonight, but I just have to tell you. I love you. I … I don’t know if that changes your plans? But I thought you should know.”
Getting emotional, Rachel replied, “Gunther. Oh, I love you too. Probably not the same way, but I do. And when I’m in a cafe, having coffee, or I see a man with hair brighter than the sun. . , I will think you.”
How we all will.
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