Tab Hunter, 1950s movie idol, died Sunday night in Santa Barbara, California, from a blood clot that caused a heart attack, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Allan Glaser, Hunter’s romantic partner of more than three decades, told THR that his death was “unexpected and sudden.” He was just three days shy of his 87th birthday.
Tab Hunter had an indelible effect on pop culture over several decades. He was born in 1931 in New York City. He started his acting career with World War II-epics like Island Of Desire and Battle Cry, hooking up with the equally popular Natalie Wood in movies like The Burning Hills and The Girl He Left Behind in the mid-’50s. His teen-idol status was so strong that he even released a hit single, 1957’s “Young Love,” becoming the very first artist signed to Warner Bros. Records. (Jack Warner created the label for Hunter after “Young Love” knocked Elvis off the top of the charts.)
Hunter also appeared in early TV’s prestigious anthology series like Climax! and Playhouse 90. Possibly his biggest splash in movies was in 1958’s Damn Yankees, playing a star ballplayer crafted by the devil to beat the title team, the only cast member who was not in the original stage production. The handsome young actor then landed his own series in 1961 with The Tab Hunter Show, portraying a happy-go-lucky cartoonist living in Malibu Beach.
That show only lasted a single season, however, and Hunter’s cinematic output in the 1960s slid a bit to shallow beach fare like Ride The Wild Surf. The 1970s saw the actor guest-starring in shows from Charlie’s Angels to The Six Million Dollar Man. Hunter had a cinematic resurgence in the ’80s by appearing in John Waters films like Polyester, in which he romanced Divine; he called the experience “wonderful.” He also was cast as a Rydell High teacher alongside Connie Stevens and Eve Arden in 1982’s Grease 2.
Polyester was produced by Hunter and Glaser, his partner of many years. Hunter released a memoir in 2005, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making Of A Movie Star, in which he “confirmed long-standing rumors about his homosexuality.” He told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, “I thought, ‘Look, get it from the horse’s mouth and not from some horse’s ass after I’m dead and gone. I didn’t want someone putting a spin on my life.” Glaser turned the book into a documentary, Tab Hunter Confidential, in 2015.
Last month, J.J. Abrams and Zachary Quinto announced that they were working on a new film called Tab & Tony, about the brief romance between Hunter and Psycho star Anthony Perkins. For a star that came of age in an extremely closeted era, Tab Hunter was refreshingly candid about his life. He said, “the real important thing is, I think, not labeling a person. The first line in my book is, ‘I hate labels.’ It’s who we are as human beings. What kind of human being are you? Are you a contributor?” Hunter certainly was.