SANTA BARBARA (CelebrityAccess) — Tab Hunter, an actor who rose to national prominence as a heartthrob leading man in the 1950s, died on Sunday at a hospital on Santa Barbara, California. He was 86.
Allan Glazer, his longtime partner, told CNN that the cause of death was a blood clot that caused cardiac arrest.
“We were walking home and he collapsed in my arms in our front yard,” Glaser told CNN. “He said he couldn’t breathe, so I called 911, and we went to the hospital.”
“This was sudden and unexpected,” Glaser added. “He was athletic, more like a 60-year-old not an 86-year-old.”
Born in New York as Arthur Andrew Kelm, Hunter grew up in California and joined the United States Coast Guard at the age of 15 after lying about his age, but he was discharged when the truth came out.
Then, after adopting the professional name Tab Hunter on advice from his talent agent Henry Willson, he then landed a series of minor roles in films such as “The Steel Lady,” (1953) and “Return To Treasure Island” (1954).
However, his breakthrough to a leading man came in 1955 when he was cast in the war drama “Battle Cry” which he followed up with a second hit in the same year “Sea Hunters.”
At the same time, rumors began to circulate about Hunter’s sexuality after a tabloid broke a story that he’d previously been arrested at a “pajama party.”
“It was all bullshit. I had been invited to the party by a friend and attended it solely for the free food. When I arrived, there happened to be a couple of guys dancing with a couple of guys and a couple of gals dancing with a couple of gals, so I looked and said, “Oh, it’s one of those parties,” and then proceeded to the refrigerator. Moments later, the cops showed up and arrested all of us,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in a 2015 interview.
Hunter told the publication that at the time, he thought the innuendo-laden article would end his career, but he said his agent at the time was effective in quashing the story.
Ironically, Hunter was gay, and maintained longtime relationships with actor Tony Perkins and then figure skater Ronnie Robertson and was the subject of a 2015 documentary “Tab Hunter: Confidential” about the actor’s career and closeted life in Hollywood.
He revealed his sexuality in his 2005 autobiography “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star.”
In addition to his work on the screen, Hunter also had a successful music career, scoring hits with “Young Love” (Six weeks at #1) and “Ninety-Nine Ways.” He also appeared in the musical film “Damn Yankees,” in which he played Joe Hardy of Washington, D.C.’s American League baseball club.
In the 1960s, he ventured onto television with the moderately successful sitcom “The Tab Hunter Show” which lasted for a season as well as roles on a number of shows during the 1970s, including “Hawaii Five-O,” “The Love Boat,” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.”