Tab Hunter, the closeted Hollywood star who made over forty movies before coming out in 2005, has died at the age of 86 in Santa Barbara, California.
He is survived by his long-time partner and spouse, Allan Glaser, who later confirmed the death. Glaser said Hunter died of cardiac arrest, due to a blood clot traveling to his lung. Hunter was three days shy of his 87th birthday.
He was born Arthur Kelm, soon Arthur Gelien. Raised by an itinerant single mother, he joined the Coast Guard as a teenager.
Beginning his acting career at age 17, Hunter rose to fame in the Fifties, when his classic good looks made him a romantic favorite in a series of motion pictures.
According to the New York Times, “In February 1956, Mr. Hunter received a reported 62,000 Valentines. He was the dream date of teenage girls on several continents. And he had a secret.”
The studio system, which was then dying, lifted Hunter to prominence. Hunter was notable for such pictures as 1955’s Battle Cry–his first success. Following his initial career boom, Hunter starred alongside Natalie Wood a year later, in the “The Girl He Left Behind” and “The Burning Hills.”
As the AV Club put it, “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.”
He went on to starring roles in “Damn Yankees,” and a one-year television comedy, “The Tab Hunter Show.” but his career lapsed until director John Waters made him palatable for a new generation in 1981’s “Polyester.” He followed that up with an appearance in “Grease 2.”
According to a 2016 profile in the Miami Herald, Hunter, “perhaps the most popular pretty-boy movie star of the 1950s, spent most of his film career in the closet, terrified the public would abandon him if female fans learned the truth about their romantic idol.”
“I was concerned about everything,” he said in 2013. “I was frightened of my own shadow as a kid.”
As part of his coming-out process, he wrote a book (2005) titled “Tab Hunter Confidential,” which led to a 2015 documentary of the same name.
Hunter had an affair with fellow screen legend Anthony Perkins, and with Olympian Ronnie Robertson. He was also a noted equestrian, ice skater, and one-time automobile collector.