Tab Hunter, the fair-haired actor who rose to stardom in the 1950s, died yesterday at age 86. He was three days shy of his birthday.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the cause of death was a blood clot that triggered a heart attack. The news of his passing was announced via a Facebook post on the account for his 2005 memoir and subsequent documentary film, Tab Hunter Confidential.
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.
Hunter first came to prominence on the screen in 1955’s Battle Cry, directed by Raoul Walsh, in a role that he beat out both James Dean and Paul Newman to secure. Warner Brothers was impressed enough with his work that they signed him to a seven-year contract and immediately put him to work in films such as The Girl He Left Behind and Burning Hills (both 1956). When studio chief Jack Warner bought the film rights to the Broadway hit musical Damn Yankees, it was reported that he did so with an eye to have Hunter star as Washington Senators slugger Hardy. Hunter would be the only actor to replace a member of the musical’s stage cast for the film.
Born Arthur Andrew Kelm in New York City, Hunter’s family relocated to California in his early childhood. At age 15 he lied about his age to enlist in the Coast Guard. After his service he transitioned to acting and his stage name, first appearing in 1950’s The Lawless. He also appeared in such films as Gun Belt (1953) and Return To Treasure Island (1954) at United Artists, before moving over to Warner Brothers. His career at Warners wound down after just a few years with films like That Kind of Woman (1959), Operation Bikini (1963) and Man With Two Faces (1964). As the counter-culture of the decade grew, Hunter soon found his square-jawed, wholesome image to be out of style.
Hunter saw a bit of a career resurgence, or at least some new found cult appreciation, following an appearance in director John Waters’s 1981 film Polyester. He followed that up with a role in Paul Bartel’s 1985 comedy western Lust In The Dust. Both films saw Hunter sharing scenes with Waters’ mainstay actor Devine.