Even though Janice’s "Oh my God" ritual became the second-most iconic phrase of Friends (behind only "we were on a break"), and Mike Hannigan married into the crew late in the show, James Michael Tyler’s bright-haired barista Gunther was the undeniable seventh "friend" of the Central Perk six.
Sure, nobody knew his last name — unless, as Chandler guessed, his full moniker really was Gunther Centralperk — and his long-held obsession with Rachel was totally unrequited. But he was still the most consistent guest star on the show and held his coffee-shilling role for all 10 seasons. So, why has Tyler disappeared, while the rest of the cast still steadily works on the small and big screens? Let’s take a look at why we don’t hear much from Gunther anymore.
He wasn’t really supposed to be a series regular
While most of the Friends cast members’ careers were still relatively new by the time they signed onto the show, they each still had a pretty legitimate history in the biz before they got their roles. However, Tyler was merely an extra trying to get a free meal when he accidentally nabbed his part as the coffeehouse guy who happened to become something more.
So the story goes, Tyler got the gig simply because he was the only one of the extras who actually knew how to work the complicated cafe machinery that was provided as a prop. "I honestly always thought my masters in fine arts would get me further in the acting world than knowing how to work an espresso machine!" he joked to Digital Spy about his random good fortune. "That was a happy accident and I’m very, very grateful to have had that skill."
So, while his long-lasting role on Friends was the result of a fortunate coincidence, he hadn’t really had the same level of experience auditioning and earning roles the old-fashioned way, like the others from the show. And if he was taking any career notes from Joey Tribbiani along the way, well, that probably wasn’t much help either.
His hair looks totally different in real-life
Another bit of happenstance that worked in Tyler’s favor when it came to Friends was the fact that while he was not naturally blonde, one of his friends decided to play guinea pig on his hair just before the show’s taping and turned his locks sheet white. No word on whether his pal ever made it as a stylist, but for Tyler, the producers ended up loving the look, so he spent the next decade dyeing his hair — a practice which even made it into a bit of the script later on down the line — to keep it consistent. "I wanted to be ‘The Gunther’ [hairstyle] you know they had ‘The Rachel,’ I always wondered why ‘The Gunther’ never took off," he later joked of the look.
With the exception of the 20th anniversary celebration in which he helped open a Friends pop-up coffee shop in London to celebrate the show, Tyler hasn’t kept the bleached look going since the hit series came to a close, so even the most ardent Friends fans might have a hard time recognizing him without the minted mane out and about.
He’s still forever associated with the show
Even without his "golden as the sun" hair, Tyler is still forever linked to Friends, thanks to his limited filmography before and after its airing. And even of those acting roles he’s gotten since Friends, several of them were invariably connected to his status as Gunther. For starters, in 2006, he was part of a failed TV pilot called Nobody’s Watching in which two TV megafans try to start their own sitcom with Warner Bros. In the unaired cameo role, he played — you guessed it — himself, discovered by the would-be series’ stars on a replica set of Central Perk at the studio lot.
Then, in Season 2 of Matt LeBlanc’s critically acclaimed BBC/Showtime series Episodes, he again appeared as himself, poking fun at the fact that he was the only former Friends co-star LeBlanc could get to appear on his faux show. It was all very meta and cheeky, and while Tyler wasn’t the only Friends alum who ultimately made way to Episodes (David Schwimmer also appeared in himself for an episode), it gave him the opportunity to make light of his continued relationship with the cast. He joked, "You know, you’re like the only one I don’t keep in touch with … I still see Schwimmer, and Courteney [Cox] and I text all the time … I house sit for [Jennifer Aniston] when she’s in New York."
While he was playing his real-life self in that scene, that quote was certainly a work of fiction because, as he told MovieWeb in 2016, he’s had almost no contact with the cast since the show. "I live in Los Angeles, so I will see them in passing a lot of times. I’ll go into a restaurant and the waiter will say, ‘You just missed your friend.’ I’ll say, ‘Oh, who?’ expecting it will be somebody from my neighborhood, and they say, ‘Jennifer Aniston just finished eating here and you just missed her.’ It’s either that, or passing them in traffic. It’s just because people have different lives and have gone in different directions now," he explained.
He’s also not been part of the many cast reunions
Even though Tyler has been recruited by the studio to help promote Friends after the fact — for pop-up opening of a Central Perk replica shop in London and New York, and then again in 2015 for Friendsfest — he curiously was not a part of the network’s big Friends cast reunion which celebrated director James Burrows in 2016. He also wasn’t included in the Jimmy Kimmel Live reunion skit that took place in 2014, and, apart from his cameo on Episodes, Tyler hasn’t gotten much co-star love in the way of guest roles on the big six’s other shows. Meanwhile, the others have frequently popped into each other’s programs as a sign of solidarity for one another.
There’s probably no spite or malintention involved in that fact, of course, but it still goes to show that as far as the other Friends stars are or were concerned, Gunther was still just a supporting character who’s been largely left out of some of those opportunities for refreshing everyone on his relationship with this zeitgeisty phenomenon of a show. And it’s not for lack of interest, either. Tyler has expressed an interest in joining some of his fellow Friends alums new shows.
He’s also been grappling with some personal issues
In 2014, Tyler filed for divorce from his wife Barbara Chadsey, whom he married in 1995, which was around the same time his Friends character started getting a name and some backstory development. TMZ reported that Tyler had been estranged from Chadsey for more than a decade by the time he actually filed for dissolution of their union, citing "irreconcilable differences," so he clearly had some personal relationship dilemmas in play for the years following the show’s finale in 2004.
His social media presence is slim
Unlike most of the Friends cast, Tyler actually does have a public Twitter feed that he’s checked into every once in awhile, especially during those points of nostalgic publicity he’s been involved with. But he’s still not particularly active on social media. Since joining the site in 2012, Tyler has only tweeted 142 times (as of this writing), and many of those messages have been quippy bits of Friends-related comments. Meanwhile, his Instagram feed mostly consists of candid shots of his cats (fun fact: he adopted one he found on the set of Friends that he named Cubby and kept for years). That lack of constant interaction certainly can be a hindrance to keeping an actor’s name in the news cycle.
He’s quietly been supporting his alma mater
Tyler received his Bachelor of Arts in geology from Clemson University in 1984, and, as one of the school’s celebrity alums, he’s been working with the university to promote its profile in recent years. For example, in 2015, he spoke with student athletes about the college’s network opportunities across the nation, and in 2016, he starred in a scholarship promotional video in which he touted the school’s faculty for helping him break into the biz by encouraging a well-rounded education experience for its students.
He’s just not done much acting ever since
Outside of Friends, Tyler’s not had much luck making it as a bona fide actor in Hollywood. Among his few credits, he’s had cameo roles in shows like Scrubs and iCarly and a bit part in the 2011 dramedy 50/50, but overall, he’s had little luck turning his Gunther gusto into something long-term. Perhaps the multitude of residuals from Friends has made it so that Tyler simply doesn’t have to work to get by, but he’s still been trying his best nonetheless.
As he told MovieWeb in 2016, he tried out the web series scene with a show called Keeping Up with the Downs and appeared in a now-defunct series called Modern Music in 2013, and he’s been trying to make his own way by stepping behind-the-scenes to write his own screenplay as well. "I also just finished my first screenplay, with my two writing partners. It’s an animated feature, so we have that out there now too, going through the town," he explained at the time. No word yet about the details of that program, but he has described it as "a satirical version of the afterlife."
He’s also been doing work that’s almost completely outside the realm of acting, hosting a web series of author interviews for Expanded Books and doing music production.
How he can turn it around
Although Tyler has been reticent to say that he’d encourage a Friends reunion movie because a reprisal of the show’s concept at their age would be much more depressing, he could certainly elevate his own profile by reaching out to some more of his former co-stars for cameo roles in their current productions. And if that doesn’t work out, perhaps he could open his own themed coffee shop! While he has cautioned that he "never made an espresso or a cappuccino during the entire run of Friends [and] was miming every bit of that because espresso machines are really loud," he does still have gobs of unfeigned experience behind the coffee bar, and fans would probably flock to grab a cup of java from Gunther … provided he has an orange couch in his shop and "stupid British scones" on the menu, of course.