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'Friends' star James Michael Tyler has stage 4 prostate cancer

Actor James Michael Tyler, seen in 2015, says

Actor James Michael Tyler, seen in 2015, says he went public with his cancer diagnosis as a way to help others detect the disease earlier. Credit: Getty Images / Anthony Harvey

Actor James Michael Tyler, who memorably played the recurring role of Central Perk barista Gunther on dozens of episodes of the 1994-2004 comedy hit "Friends," has revealed that he is suffering from stage 4 prostate cancer.

In the televised portion of a longer interview with the NBC morning show "Today" Monday, the 59-year-old Tyler revealed that, "In September of 2018, I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones."

No longer able to walk because of tumors on his spine and cancer-related bone fractures, the actor nonetheless participated via Zoom in HBO Max's high-profile "Friends" reunion special that debuted May 27, a day before his birthday.

The cast knew of his cancer, Tyler said. "David Schwimmer has corresponded with me via Instagram. The producers are aware; they've been aware for a long time."

As for his prognosis, "It's stage 4, late-stage cancer. So eventually, you know, it's going to probably get me."

In a video shot concurrently for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and posted on its Facebook account Monday morning, Tyler urged men to get a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test during routine checkups. "Ask for a PSA test," he said. "My specific cancer went to the bones before it could be stopped, before I realized I had it. … And I can tell you," he went on with a rueful chuckle, "you do not want to go through what I've had to go through the past 2½ years."

He recalled, "I ended up in intensive care. I nearly died this past October. And the fear of not coming back to see my wife," Jan, he said, his voice cracking as he became tearful. "I'm not sitting here crying all the time," he said. "I want to save lives. I want to help."

In the nontelevised portion of the "Today" interview, Tyler said of the "Friends" reunion, "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," adding on air, "I didn't want it to be like, 'Oh, and by the way, Gunther has cancer.' "

He is speaking out, he said, to help make the public aware and to try to save even one life. "That's my only reason for coming out like this and letting people know," he said. "That's my new role."

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