Former Hollywood heart-throb Tab Hunter, best known for leading man roles in the late 1950s, has died, aged 86.
A message posted to the Facebook page Tab Hunter Confidential announced “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.”
Actor-musician-novelist, Hunter supported George Montgomery in Gun Belt (1953), a Western produced by Edward Small. Small used him again for a war film, The Steel Lady, (1953) supporting Rod Cameron, and as the lead in an adventure tale, Return to Treasure Island (1954).
Offered a contract at Warner Bros. he made The Sea Chase (1955), supporting John Wayne and Lana Turner. It was a big hit, but Hunter’s part was relatively small. Rushes were seen by William Wellman, who cast Hunter to play the younger brother of Robert Mitchum in Track of the Cat (1955). It was a solid hit and Hunter began to get more notice. He became one of cinema’s most popular male stars in the latter stages of the decade thanks to roles in films such as Battle Cry (1955) and The Burning Hills (1956).
But Hunter’s fame arrived a time when homosexuality was a taboo subject leading the star to lead what he described as a “double life.” During that time, the famously closeted Hunter had relationships with Psycho star Anthony Perkins and figure skater Robbie Robertson despite participating in a fictitious romance with Natalie Wood. He confirmed his sexuality in 2005 best-selling autobiography Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star which he co-wrote with Eddie Muller. He has been in a relationship with producer Allan Glaser for 35 years.
He starred in his own sitcom The Tab Hunter Show which lasted only one season but was a huge hit in the United Kingdom, where it ranked as one of the top situation comedies of the year.
Other TV credits included Burke’s Law, The Virginian, The Six Million Dollar Man, McMillan & Wife, Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, Ellery Queen, Hawaii Five-O, Police Woman, The Love Boat, Charlie’s Angels, Benson, Masquerade and The Fall Guy.
He was rediscovered in middle age, however. Hunter was cast opposite Divine in Polyester, a low-budget John Waters comedy that gleefully sent up everything from alcoholism to foot fetishism. The film helped introduce Hunter to a younger audience, some of whom were unfamiliar with his pin-up past.
Just last month, a film charting Hunter’s love affair with Perkins was announced starring Zachary Quinto.
He’s also the source of the documentary Tab Hunter Confidential screening on Netflix.