Tab Hunter, the chiseled 1950s heartthrob who portrayed Joe Hardy in the Damn Yankees! movie, had a No. 1 record and starred in two outlandish films with the drag queen Divine, has died. He was 86.
Hunter died Sunday night in Santa Barbara from a blood clot that caused a heart attack, Allan Glaser, his romantic partner of more than three decades, told The Hollywood Reporter, describing his passing as “unexpected and sudden.” A Facebook page linked to the star also announced his passing with a message that read: “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.”
After decades of silence, the leading man confirmed long-standing rumors about his homosexuality in his autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, published in 2005.
Hunter said he had been told by Glaser that someone was planning to write a book about him. “I thought, ‘Look, get it from the horse’s mouth and not from some horse’s ass after I’m dead and gone,'” he told THR‘s Scott Feinberg in 2015. “I didn’t want someone putting a spin on my life.”
With his Malibu-style, boy-next-door looks and stage name dreamed up by Henry Willson — the agent for Rock Hudson as well — the blondish Hunter was a constant presence on the front of fan and teen magazines in his heyday. (A photo of him with his bare chest was used as the cover to the 2000 book Shirtless! The Hollywood Male Physique.)
After Hunter beat out James Dean and Paul Newman to portray a young Marine in Raoul Walsh’s Battle Cry (1955), Warner Bros. picked up his option and signed him to a seven-year contract, and he appeared in The Girl He Left Behind (1956) and Burning Hills (1956).
Studio head Jack Warner then purchased the film rights to the Tony-winning Broadway musical Damn Yankees! (1958) for Hunter to star in as Washington Senators slugger Hardy. He replaced Stephen Douglass as the lone principal actor who did not make the transition from the stage.
In The New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther wrote: “Tab Hunter may not have the larynx that Stephen Douglass had as the original hero, but he has the clean, naive look of a lad breaking into the big leagues and into the magical company of a first-rate star. He is really appealing with Miss [Gwen] Verdon in the boogiewoogie ballet, “Two Lost Souls,” which is done in a smoky, soft-lit setting and is the dandiest dance number in the film.”
In a similar athletic vein, Hunter played troubled Boston Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall on a 1955 episode of the CBS anthology series “Climax!” Like the 1957 movie that starred Anthony Perkins, it was based on the ballplayer’s memoir, Fear Strikes Out.
Hunter’s recording of “Young Love” for Dot Records in 1957 reached No. 1 and stayed there for six weeks, knocking Elvis Presley’s “Too Much” out of the top spot and prompting the creation of Warner Bros. Records. (Jack Warner was annoyed that his studio did not have a record company to capitalize on Hunter’s vocal skills, so he started one.)
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