Tab Hunter, a wildly popular movie star with a #1 hit single in the '50s who later spoofed his heartthrob status in films like Polyester, has died a few days short of his 87th birthday. No cause has been given.
Hunter's death was announced just after midnight July 9, indicating he had died July 8. The official announcement came via the Facebook page of the acclaimed 2015 documentary about his life, Tab Hunter Confidential, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and produced by Hunter's longtime partner, Allan Glaser.
SAD NEWS: 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.
Born Arthur Kelm in New York City, Hunter actually grew up in California as Arthur Gelien, using his divorced mom's maiden name, in California. He joined the Coast Guard at 15, lying about his age.
Once discovered, he was expelled, and not long after was discovered (he put the word in quotations when he recalled it) by the notorious Henry Willson (1911-1978), who specialized in hunks like Rock Hudson (1925-1985), Robert Wagner (b. 1930), and Guy Madison (1922-1996).
Willson, with his flair for the cheesy, rechristened the all-American stud before his film debut in The Lawless (1950).
In spite of the open secret of Hunter being gay — a major no-no at the time — he soon blossomed into a major box-office attraction — in fact, he was the #1 draw for Warner Bros. in the last half of the '50s.
He scored hits with films like Island of Desire (1952), Track of the Cat (1955), Battle Cry (1955), The Sea Chase (1955), the 1958 screen adaptation of Damn Yankees, and That Kind of Woman (1959) opposite Sophia Loren (b. 1934).
He was also winningly teamed with frequent beards Natalie Wood (1938-1981) and Debbie Reynolds (1932-2016).
Hunter's first pop single, "Young Love" (1957), spent six weeks at #1 on the music charts, one of the biggest hits of the era. Warner Bros. was so envious of his success in that medium it created Warner Bros. Records in order to keep Tab's (ultimately, limited) musical successes in-house.
A September 1955 Confidential Magazine hit piece famously reported on his 1950 arrest for disorderly conduct. Hunter told THR in 2015, "Confidential targeted me. It all came about because Henry Willson... cut a deal with them to keep Rock [Hudson] out of their pages, feeding them dirt on me instead."
Confidential intimated that Hunter had been at a gay orgy, a charge he referred to as "bullshit." It was a gay party, not a gay orgy, and the cops arriving was pure gay harassment. Still, Hunter confessed, "When the Confidential article came out, though, I thought my career was over."
Though Hunter was seen as a dinosaur by the mid-'60s, the classic John Waters film Polyester (1981), in which his leading lady was drag legend Divine (1945-1988), allowed him to parody himself successfully. He appeared in the once-hated-now-beloved Grease 2 (1982), and also starred (again, opposite Divine) in Lust in the Dust (1985), produced by his partner Allan Glaser (b. circa 1950s).
He made TV appearances and also appeared onstage.
In 2015, Glaser produced the documentary Tab Hunter Confidential, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz (b. 1969), which captured the reluctant sex symbol's optimistic outlook and allowed him to speak at length about being gay in Hollywood at a time when it was forbidden.
Just last month, it was announced that Hunter's steamy affair with fellow closeted movie star Anthony Perkins (1932-1992), Norman Bates in Psycho (1960), would be the subject of a film collaboration between J.J. Abrams (b. 1966) and Zachary Quinto (b. 1977). Their affair crashed to a halt when Hunter found out Perkins had secretly bought the rights to star in the movie version of Fear Strikes Out (1957), adapted from the Climax! TV presentation in which Hunter had starred in 1955.
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.
Hunter is surved by Glaser.
Please check out my footage of Tab chatting about his doc in 2015: