Tab Hunter, whose heartthrob status was undeniable having spent the height of his career alongside other 1950s icons like James Dean and Paul Newman, died Sunday night in Santa Barbara, California, after a blood clot caused a heart attack, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Allan Glaser, Hunter’s romantic partner of more than thirty years said the death was “unexpected and sudden.”
Though Hunter was best known for his role in Damn Yankees (1958), when it made the transition from stage to screen, he also starred opposite John Waters’ muse, the outlandish drag queen Divine, in Polyester (1981) and Lust in the Dust (1985).
Born Arthur Andrew Kelm in 1931 in New York City, Hunter took on a produced name that had more Hollywood appeal during the iconic time in cinema. A star on the screen and signed to Warner Bros., Hunter also had the gift of song, spending time on the charts alongside the likes of Elvis Presley. It was Hunter’s six-week stint at the top of the charts with 1957’s “Young Love” that prompted the creation of Warner Bros. Records, when Jack Warner was irked that his studio didn’t have a way to capitalize on Hunter’s radio popularity.
As with the majority of gay actors of the time, Hunter remained in the closet to avoid career-ending damage to his public image. It wasn’t until 2005, long after the height of his career, that Hunter came out in his autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. Glaser had told Hunter that someone was planning to write a book about him, so Hunter took matters into his own hands to present the record in a factual way.
“If I had come out during my acting career in the 1950s, I would not have had a career,” Hunter said in a 2017 interview. “Not much in Hollywood has changed in 60 years. I really didn’t talk about my sexuality until I wrote my autobiography.” He added: “My film career had long since been over by then. I believe one’s sexuality is one’s own business. I really don’t go around discussing it. Call me ‘old school’ on that topic.”