Tab Hunter, the Fifties actor who became a gay icon following the publication of his 2005 memoir, has died at the age of 86.
The Facebook page tied to Tab Hunter Confidential, the 2015 documentary about the actor, announced Hunter’s death Monday. “Tab passed away tonight three days shy of his 87th birthday. Please honor his memory by saying a prayer on his behalf. He would have liked that,” the account wrote. The Hollywood Reporter later confirmed the death with Hunter’s spokesperson, although no cause of death was revealed.
A heartthrob matinee idol during Hollywood’s Golden Age, Hunter starred in films like 1958’s Damn Yankees, Battle Cry and Westerns like Track of the Cat and The Burning Hills.
Rumors regarding Hunter’s sexuality during a conservative era in Hollywood threatened to derail the young actor’s career. A 1955 article in the gossip magazine Confidential attempted to out Hunter, while gossip columnists at the time would subtly hint at Hunter’s homosexuality in items about the actor’s publicity department-orchestrated relationships with good friends Natalie Wood, who co-starred with Hunter in the 1956 romantic comedy The Girl He Left Behind, and Debbie Reynolds.
Hunter remained closeted until 2005, when he confirmed that he was gay in his memoir Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star; a documentary about the book, produced by Hunter’s longtime partner Allan Glaser, was released in 2015.
“If I had come out during my acting career in the 1950s, I would not have had a career,” Hunter told the Pocono Record in October 2017. “Not much in Hollywood has changed in 60 years. I really didn’t talk about my sexuality until I wrote my autobiography. 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.”
The actor added, “There still isn’t a romantic male lead in films who is actively working who has come out as gay. Perhaps there has been on TV, stage and in different arenas in the entertainment business, but not a major male movie star. Film actors today still fear that coming out would damage their career.”
Following his brief tenure as a leading man, Hunter continued to act on the big and small screens as well as on stage. In the early Eighties, Hunter enjoyed a brief career comeback with roles in Grease 2 and John Waters’ Polyester; Hunter would appear alongside actress and fellow LGBT icon Divine in three Eighties films, including Divine’s final film Out of the Dark.
At the height of his film career, Hunter recorded the hit single “Young Love” in 1957; the song spent six weeks at Number One on the Hot 100 after knocking Elvis Presley out of the top spot. Hunter, who as an actor was under contract with Warner Bros., would later claim that studio boss Jack Warner was infuriated that the Paramount Pictures-owned Dot Records, which released “Young Love,” was profiting off a Warner actor. As a result, the studio founded Warner Bros. Records in 1958, with Hunter its first signee.
Hunter’s death comes a month after the announcement that Tab & Tony, a film about the actor and Psycho star Anthony Perkins’ secret love affair, was in the works, with J.J. Abrams and Zachary Quinto producing a screenplay penned by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright.
Quinto wrote on Instagram, “So sad to wake up to the news of the passing of Tab Hunter. I was honored to get to know him in the past year and am so grateful to have experienced his sheer joy and love of life. and what a life! such a rich experience. such a vital and generous nature. and such a pioneer of self-acceptance and moving through this world with authenticity as his guide. he will be missed greatly. may he rest in peace.”
Elton John tweeted, “RIP to the most handsome and special man. ‘Young Love’ forever.”
— Elton John (@eltonofficial) July 9, 2018