Tab Hunter, the blond actor and singer who was a heartthrob for millions of teenagers in the 1950s with such films as "Battle Cry" and "Damn Yankees" and received new attention decades later when he revealed that he was gay, has died. He was 86.
Producer and spouse Allan Glaser said Hunter died Sunday of a blood clot in his leg that caused cardiac arrest. Glaser called the death "sudden and unexpected."
Hunter was a star for several years. In addition to his hit movies, his recording of "Young Love" topped the Billboard pop chart in 1957.
But in his 2005 memoir, "Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star," Hunter recounted the stresses of being a love object to millions of young women when he was, in reality, a gay man.
"I believed, wholeheartedly — still do — that a person's happiness depends on being true to themselves," he wrote. "The dilemma, of course, that was being true to myself — and I'm talking sexually now — was impossible in 1953."
Among those stars honoring Hunter on Monday included Harvey Fierstein, who called Hunter a "gay icon" and a "true gentleman" on Twitter, adding, "We shared some good laughs back in the 80's. I was always fond of this dear man."
Zachary Quinto on Instagram also cheered Hunter's "vital and generous nature" and called him a "pioneer of self-acceptance" who moved through the world "with authenticity as his guide." GLAAD tweeted "Our hearts are with Tab's loved ones."
Born Arthur Andrew Kelm, his screen tab (slang for "name" at the time) was fabricated by Henry Willson, the same talent agent who came up with the names Rock Hudson and Rory Calhoun.
The legend goes that Willson said to the young man: "We've got to find something to tab you with. Do you have any hobbies?" His client answered, "I ride horses. Hunters." Agent: "That's it! We'll call you Tab Hunter."
With no dramatic training, Hunter was cast in a minor role in the 1950 drama, "The Lawless." The fuss over the young actor began two years later when he appeared bare-chested opposite Linda Darnell in the British-made "Island of Desire." Soon his handsome face and muscular build appeared on magazine covers. Warner Bros., alert to the increasingly important youth market, signed him to a contract.
Hunter made a flurry of movies in the latter half of the 1950s, aimed at capitalizing on his popularity with young girls. The films included such war dramas as "Battle Cry" (with Van Heflin) and "Lafayette Escadrille" (Clint Eastwood in a small role). He made the Westerns "The Burning Hills" (Natalie Wood) and "They Came to Cordura" (Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth). And he made romantic comedies like "The Pleasure of His Company" (Fred Astaire, Debbie Reynolds.)
A highlight was the 1958 "Damn Yankees," an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical with Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston in their Tony-winning New York roles and the original director, George Abbott, sharing direction with Stanley Donen. The New York Times' critic noted that Hunter "has the clean, naive look of a lad breaking into the big leagues and into the magical company of a first-rate star."
Besides the movies, he displayed his athletic skills — he had been a figure skater as well as horseman — in a TV special, "Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates."