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Tom Selleck On Friends: Dr. Richard Burke's Timeline Explained

Over its decade on the air, "Friends" managed to snag some pretty spectacular guest stars. Brad Pitt, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, and even Bruce Willis stopped by over the show's 10-season run. Of course having a core cast of actors — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc — who each went on to become bona fide stars in their own rights, certainly helped in terms of attracting such star power.

One of the biggest names to stop by the series in a recurring guest-starring role, however, was the moustache himself: Tom Selleck. The original Magnum P.I. played ophthalmologist Dr. Richard Burke, Monica's (Cox) much older love interest. Although Selleck only appeared in nine episodes of the series, he was often mentioned by the other characters and he had a major impact on Monica's storyline over the years. Fans were also into the coupling, which is probably why when Cox and Selleck reunited for a bite to eat in New York City in 2018, it made headlines. Here's how Richard Burke's story shook out over the course of the show, both on and offscreen.

Richard's history with Ross and Monica

Richard made his first appearance in "The One Where Ross and Rachel... You Know." Although the episode revolved around Ross (Schwimmer) and Rachel (Aniston) as they consummated their new relationship, Monica had her own romantic revelations when she catered a gig her mom (Christina Pickles) had landed her. That gig was hosted by one Dr. Richard Burke, a newly divorced man who also happened to be best friends with Monica's dad (Elliott Gould).

Because of that connection Richard and his ex, Barbara, had been the Gellers family friends for decades. They had also known Monica and her brother, Ross, ever since they were children, and had watched them grow up over the years. Further complicating any potential trysts between Richard and Monica was the fact that Monica went to school with Richard's daughter, Michelle. Add in a son, a couple of grandkids, and a 21-year age difference, and this May-December romance definitely got off to a rather awkward start.

When he realized Monica was all grown up

Despite the fact that Richard and Monica had known each other for years, when they reconnected at the party that Richard was throwing for his ophthalmologist friends. it was obvious they hadn't seen each other in some time. Richard barely recognized Monica, given that she had undergone such a radical weight loss, while Monica grappled with seeing her dad's bestie in a whole new light.

Although Richard was supposed to be the debonair party host with the most, he spent the entirety of the evening chatting up his caterer, setting up the potential romance to come. (Phoebe, who was filling in as a server for Rachel, ogled the situation from afar.) And while it's unclear whether Richard would have pursued things any further following that night, Monica took matters into her own hands when she later booked an eye appointment with him, despite having just had her peepers checked by another pro.

Richard and Monica: Round One

From the very beginning it was clear this relationship was based on a steamy, mutual attraction. At the eye appointment, Monica and Richard could not help themselves and they shared a hot make-out session, kicking off one of many to come. "I loved that scene as the eye doctor looking into her eyes," Selleck recalled years later to Radio Times. "Courteney Cox has very pretty eyes."

The kissing went so well that they decided to go on an actual date, prompting big brother Ross to go all ... well, Ross on the situation. As he freaked out about his sis dating their dad's best friend, Monica was fine going with the flow ... until she and Richard got to chatting and realized they were at very different places in life. During dinner they decided to be friends, but then their libidos kicked in and they figured taking their time and going with it would be the more satisfying option — at least for the time being.

Breaking it to Judy and Jack

When Monica and Richard decided to actually give things a go, they weren't exactly thinking about how their family and friends would take their new relationship. But when Judy threw a birthday party for Jack in "The One Where Joey Moves Out," they were forced to address the situation for the first time, since Richard was invited to the shindig too.

That party could have been a fun opportunity for the couple to secretly flirt without anyone being the wiser. However, right away, the hot topic of conversation with all of the partygoers was the "Twinkie" Richard had started seeing in the city — leading to even more awkwardness. Eventually Monica and Richard just decided to come clean to her parents, which Monica did after accidentally witnessing her parents hook up in the bathroom. She confessed both items on her list by the end of the episode, but neither parent had much time to react because that also Jack's cake arrived at that exact moment.

Falling in love

While witnessing your parents be passionate with each other in the bathroom during your father's birthday party has got to be scaring, the scene served another purpose in the Richard timeline: Monica overheard Jack confessing to his wife that he believed his friend Richard was falling in love. Hearing that made Monica address her own feelings for the man, and led to some even bigger conversations between the pair.

Among them was the "numbers" talk, when Richard revealed that other than Barbara, Monica was the only woman he'd ever slept with. Obviously Monica found that a little strange (her number was definitely higher), but his number was also lower because he only slept with women that he was in love with. In that moment the relationship turned from one of pure lust into something more lasting, and fans rooted for it for years to come afterwards. In fact, some viewers still say that Richard and Monica should have been end game.

Phoebe and Rachel

When Monica and Richard first got together, Rachel was wrapped up in her new relationship with Ross. As such, Rachel didn't live as vicariously through the new couple as some of Monica's other friends. But she definitely backed Monica up with Ross, agreeing with Phoebe that Richard was sexy. (Ross didn't get how Monica could be into a man who once held her when she was a baby.) Phoebe, however, seemed into the coupling from the start.

Phoebe was there to witness their original flirtation as the substitute server at Richard's party. Later, after Monica and Richard started dating for real, she was equally into it. In Season 2's "The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies," Phoebe straight-up told Richard that she liked him the best of all the men that Monica had ever dated. Naturally she also revealed that Monica had dated around a lot, which is what prompted the aforementioned numbers conversation between Richard and Monica in the first place.

Fitting in with the guys

Monica may have been fine with dating an older man, but the coupling made things super awkward for her male friends. Joey (LeBlanc) and Chandler (Perry) weren't sure how to act around the guy, although they did dig his choice of vehicles. So when they found themselves with an extra ticket to a basketball game in "The One Where Old Yeller Dies," Monica had to convince them to take Richard. More accurately, Richard took the guys ... in his Jag.

The night of male-bonding wound up being a hit, and before long the guys wanted to be just like Richard. In fact the new trio started hanging out so much that Monica felt a little bit on the outs. Meanwhile everyone wondered: what was up with Joey toking on cigars and Chandler growing a terrible moustache? Smoking is unhealthy, and why would anyone even try to compete with Selleck's facial hair? But while Richard thought he had made inroads, the age difference apparently still mattered. Chandler and Joey liked him but thought of him as a dad, which Richard didn't exactly love to hear. With that the friendship spell was broken, because no one wants to be "the dad" of the friend group.

The break-up

As Monica dated Richard throughout the second season, things kept going surprisingly well. However, the one point they were never able to agree on was a big one: children. Richard was already a grandfather and didn't really want to start the process of having kids all over again. But Monica dreamed of having her own kids one day. While they danced around the subject for a while, eventually Monica came clean (while dancing at a wedding, of all places). During their talk, Richard agreed he would eventually have children again if he had to in order to stay with Monica.

It was a sweet gesture, but not enough to keep the couple together. In the end, Monica realized that she wanted to be with a guy who wanted to have children with her because he wanted children, not because he was trying to save a relationship. And so they called things off for good in "The One With Barry And Mindy's Wedding," the episode that served as the second-season finale.

The voicemail

When "Friends" kicked off its third season in 1996, Monica was not in a good place. Still freshly wounded from the breakup, she was having trouble sleeping and felt depressed. Richard didn't appear onscreen in the premiere, "The One With the Princess Leia Fantasy," but thanks to a visit from Jack we learned that Richard was equally devastated over the split. Maybe even more so than when his marriage fell apart.

That knowledge, along with a newly discovered message from Richard on her answering machine in the subsequent episode, "The One Where No One's Ready," was enough to prompt Monica to break into Richard's answering machine. Once she was in she heard a message from another woman (who wound up being his daughter Michelle), and obsessed over whether he was seeing someone new. The entire sequence of events made Monica question whether she did the right thing in breaking up with Richard. Throughout the remainder of the episode, Monica basically kept embarrassing herself even further every time she pursued the situation — eventually erasing Richard's outgoing voicemail message by mistake.

Richard and Monica: Round Two

With lots of lingering mutual feelings, Monica and Richard seemed to be in a good place to potentially rekindle things a few weeks later. So when they bumped into each other at a video store in "The One Where Monica And Richard Are Friends," that's exactly what happened. Richard (now without a moustache!) asked Monica to help him cook a lasagna, and the pair reunited. Clearly, all of that sexual tension was still there.

Although it had been a while since Selleck had been on the series, fans were clearly into it. When the actor had originally signed on to guest-star it was for three episodes — but then the response to the character was so great that the producers kept asking him back. "They said, 'Hey can you do a few more?'" Selleck recalled in 2020 to People. "So then I did more. And I quickly realized, 'Wow, this is a big deal.'"

Moving on

Unfortunately, while Monica and Richard still had feelings for each other, those feelings didn't cancel out their big disagreement about having kids. So even though they started casually seeing each other again in that same episode, it was without really addressing why they broke up in the first place.

It didn't take as long for things to implode this time around. When Monica realized Richard was going on a blind date, she snuck into his apartment to surprise and seduce him. That romantic gesture backfired when Richard brought his blind date home. Richard quickly figured out a way to get rid of the woman, but he also reminded Monica that the situation hadn't changed. And so they decided to break up for real this time ... but not before they took advantage of the incredibly romantic, rose-petals-on-the-bed setup that Monica orchestrated.

The final closure

Richard's name came up a few times following that final breakup. In Season 5, Monica — who was now dating Chandler — revealed she had run into Richard and they had lunch, but she no longer felt anything for him. Then, in the sixth-season finale in 2000, Richard returned for one last on-screen appearance. In "The One With The Proposal" he decided that he did still have feelings for Monica, and he now wanted to start a family with her after all.

He returned to tell her as much, but considering Chandler was planning to propose and Richard had tanked those plans by interrupting them, the timing was way off. In the end, Richard realized that Chandler was also deeply in love with Monica and that he too wanted to start a family with her. So Richard backed off and left Monica one last time, but this time it was permanent. The last we really heard about Richard was in Season 9's "The One With Ross' Inappropriate Song" episode. In it, we learned he was selling his apartment for a bigger one overlooking Central Park — and that he had recorded over a sex tape he and Monica had once made.

Now if an erasure like that isn't a solid and permanent ending to a once-iconic couple, we don't know what is.