What’s Goin’ On

Remembering Tab Hunter

A '50s Hollywood heartthrob, dead at 86


Tab Hunter was the last of the Hollywood golden boys, an actor who parlayed his surfer boy good looks into a movie and music career in the 1950s and then enjoyed a surprising renaissance in the '80s that would continue for the rest of his life.

Hunter, whose sudden death at 86 Sunday night has been attributed to a blood clot that led to a heart attack, was signed by the same agent who discovered chiseled heartthrobs like Rock Hudson, Robert Wagner, Mike Connors ("Mannix") and Chad Everett "(Medical Center").

Nicknamed "The Sigh Guy," Hunter made his movie debut in 1950's "The Lawless" and recorded the 1957 single "Young Love," which succeeded Elvis Presley's "Too Much" as the No. 1 song in the country for six weeks.

A year later, he starred in perhaps his best-known movie, "Damn Yankees!," an adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. Hunter's co-stars included original cast members Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston.

He was the grand prize in "Win a Date With Tab Hunter" contests and seen in public with starlets like Sophia Loren, Natalie Wood and Debbie Reynolds. But Hunter was homosexual, at a time when gay stars were under great pressure to keep their sexuality hidden from the public. His secret that wouldn't be officially revealed until he wrote his 2005 memoir, "Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star." Ten years later, he narrated the critically acclaimed documentary based on his bestseller.

By then, there was a generation of movie goers who knew him for co-starring with the drag queen Divine in two movies, 1981's "Polyester," directed by John Waters, and 1981's "Lust in the Dust." Hunter also played a substitute teacher in 1982's "Grease 2."

His death was announced on Facebook's Tab Hunter Confidential page. "SAD NEWS: Tab passed away tonight three days shy of his 87th birthday," said the message. "Please honor his memory by saying a prayer on his behalf. He would have liked that."