Tab Hunter, ‘Damn Yankees’ star and gay icon, dies at 86

Tab Hunter, a former on-screen heartthrob and gay icon, has died. He was 86.

Hunter died Sunday night in Santa Barbara after a blood clot in his leg caused cardiac arrest, Allan Glaser, Hunter’s partner for more than three decades, confirmed to Variety.

With his All-American good looks, wavy blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and toothy smile, Hunter rose to the top ranks of Hollywood leading men in the 1950’s and early ’60’s. He appeared in the likes of “Damn Yankees” and “Battle Cry,” and had chart-topping records such as “Young Love.” But at the height of his popularity, he was dogged by rumors that he was gay, a potentially career-ending rumor during that culturally conservative era. At one point, he was “outed” by the gossip rag, Confidential.

Hunter fell out of favor as the 1960s continued and a new breed of stars such as Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino, actors who were often less corn-fed and polished, entered the mainstream. As tastes changed, Hunter did summer stock and dinner theater, as well as appeared in spaghetti westerns.

See photos of Tab Hunter:

19 PHOTOS
Tab Hunter throughout his life
See Gallery
Tab Hunter throughout his life
Actor Tab Hunter (Photo by ?? John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Tab Hunter (Photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images)
Bettmann
1952: American actors J.L. Warner, Peggy Lee (1920 - 2002), and Tab Hunter smiling and holding their trophies for Best Motion Picture, Best New Personality Actress and Actor, respectively, at the Audience Awards at the Beverly Hilton, Los Angeles, California. Lee wears a satin strapless dress while Warner and Hunter wear tuxedos. (Photo by Jack Albin/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Tab Hunter, US actor, wearing a blue check shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, leaning on a stable door, circa 1955. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
circa 1955: American actors Natalie Wood (stage name of Natasha Gurdin) and Tab Hunter. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES,CA - MARCH 21,1956: Actress Natalie Wood and actor Tab Hunter pose as they attend the 28th Academy Awards in Los Angeles,CA. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Tab Hunter, US actor, wearing a blue top, with the sleeves rolled up, with his hands in the pockets of his trousers, circa 1955. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - CIRCA1955: Actor Tab Hunter poses at home in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - CIRCA1955: Actor Tab Hunter with Lori Nelson attend a party in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Natalie Wood lies on the chest of Tab Hunter in a scene from the film 'The Girl He Left Behind', 1956. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 17,1956: Actor Tab Hunter with Jan Chaney attend the premiere 'Giant' in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 11: Tab Hunter in 'Portrait of a Murderer' on PLAYHOUSE 90. Image dated February 11, 1958. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
American actor Tab Hunter, circa 1960. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Tab Hunter (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Allan Carr, Lorna Luft and Tab Hunter during 'Grease II' premiere party at The Red Parrot in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Betty Galella/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 19: Tab Hunter (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Tab Hunter during Los Angeles Premiere of Newly Restored Hitchcock's at Cineplex Odeon in Century City, CA, United States. (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
Tab Hunter during Tab Hunter Launches His Autobiography 'Tab Hunter - Confidential - The Making of a Movie Star' - October 14, 2005 at Barnes & Noble - Lincoln Center in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Shane Gritzinger/FilmMagic)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

He was rediscovered in middle age, however. Hunter was cast opposite Divine in “Polyester,” a low-budget John Waters comedy that gleefully sent up everything from alcoholism to foot festishism. The film helped introduce Hunter to a younger audience, some of whom were unfamiliar with his pin-up past.

Hunter came out as gay in 2005 with the publication of his autobiography, “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star.” In it, he wrote about studio publicity arms efforts to mask his homosexuality by linking him with co-stars and friends such as Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood. That book inspired a 2015 documentary by Jeffrey Schwarz, also called “Tab Hunter Confidential.”

Hunter became a symbol of the gay rights movement, but it was a role he took reluctantly, saying in a 2015 interview with Slant that, “I just have never been comfortable talking about my sexuality. I think it was easier with [the documentary] because it was quite a few years later after the book. But it’s still not my comfort zone. I was just brought up that way. I’m very old-fashioned.”

Despite being publicly closeted for much of his life, Hunter had relationships with “Psycho” star Anthony Perkins and figure skater Ronnie Robertson before settling down with Glaser.

More stars we've lost in 2018:

55 PHOTOS
Celebrities who died in 2018
See Gallery
Celebrities who died in 2018

Aretha Franklin died at the age of 76 on August 16 following a long battle with cancer. Read more here.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Renowned celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died of an apparent suicide on June 8. Read more here.

(Photo: Reuters)

"Superman" actress Margot Kidder died at the age of 69 in May. Read more here.

(Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic)

Nancy Sinatra died at the age of 101 in mid-July. Read more here.

(Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Designer Kate Spade died on June 5, 2018 by suicide. Read more here.

(Photo: Getty)

DJ Avicii died at 28 on April 20. Read more here.

(Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for MasterCard)

Joe Jackson died at the age of 89 at the end of June. Read more here.

(Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for BET)

"Austin Powers" actor Verne Troyer died at 49 on April 21. Read more here.

(Photo by Barry King/Getty Images)

"Damn Yankees" star and gay icon Tab Hunter died at the age of 86 from cardiac arrest on July 7. Read more here.

(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The Cranberries lead singer Dolores O'Riordan died at 46 on January 15. Read more here

(Photo by Frank Hoensch/Redferns)

"The Facts of Life" star Charlotte Rae died at the age of 92 in early August. Read more here.

(Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

"Frasier" star John Mahoney died at 77 on February 4. Read more here.

(Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images)

Former "Glee" actor Mark Salling died at 35 on January 30. Read more here.

(Photo by ANDREAS BRANCH/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Rapper XXXTentacion was shot dead at the age of 20 on June 19. Read more here.

(Photo by Miami Dade County Corrections via Getty Images)

Former child star Jon Paul Steuer (right) died on January 1 at the age of 33. Read more here.

(Photo by Bob D'Amico/ABC via Getty Images)

"Ladies of London" star and model Annabelle Neilson was found dead at the age of 49 in mid-July. Read more here.

(Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Claridge's)

Comedian Marty Allen died at 95 on February 12. Read more here.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Actor Jerry Van Dyke died on January 5 at age 86. Read more here.

(Photo by Mitch Haddad/ABC via Getty Images)

Richard "Old Man" Harrison from "Pawn Stars died on June 25 at the age of 77. Read more here.

(Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage)

Moody Blues co-founder Ray Thomas died on January 7 at 76. Read more here.

(Photo by Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Motorhead guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke died at 67 on January 10. Read more here.

(Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

Original Mouseketeer Doreen Tracey died at 74 on January 10. Read more here.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Bobby Zarin (left), husband of former "Real Housewives of New York" star Jill Zarin, died at 71 on January 13. Read more here.

(Photo by Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Country singer Lari White died at 52 on January 23. Read more here.

(Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images)

"Storm Chasers" star Joel Taylor died at the age of 38. Read more here.

https://t.co/nFANu8zcs4

Former NBA star Rasual Butler and former "American Idol" contestant Leah LaBelle died in a car crash on January 30. Read more here.

(Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage)

The Temptations vocalist, Dennis Edwards (center), died at 74 on February 2. Read more here.

(Photo by Paul Redmond/WireImage)

"Home Improvement" actor Mickey Jones died at 76 on February 7. Read more here.

(Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Actor Reg E. Cathey died at 59 in February. Read more here.

(Photo by Bruce Glikas/Getty Images)

Former E! reality star Lyric McHenry was found at the age of 26 on August 14. Read more here.

Country singer Daryle Singletary died at 46 in early February. Read more here.

(Photo by Mindy Small/FilmMagic)

TV star Nanette Fabray died at 97 on February 22. Read more here.

(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Bollywood actress Sridevi Kapoor died in late February at 54. Read more here.

(Photo by Amlan Dutta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

"MASH" star David Ogden Stiers died on March 3 at 75. Read more here.

(Photo by Tibrina Hobson/FilmMagic)

Rapper Craig Mack died at 46 on March 12. Read more here.

(Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)

Former child star Donna Butterworth died at 62 in March. Read more here.

(Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Frank Avruch (aka Bozo The Clown) died at 89 in March. Read more here.

(Photo by John Bohn/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

"Chicago Fire" actress Dushon Brown died at 49 on March 23. Read more here.

(Photo by Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images)

K-Pop singer Seo Min-woo died on March 25 at 33. Read more here.

Actress Susan Anspach died in April at 75. Read more here.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Kids' TV host Chuck McCann died at 83 on April 8. Read more here.

(Photo by gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

"One Flew Over The Kuckoo's Nest" director Milos Forman died at 86 on April 13. Read more here.

(Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)

"Full Metal Jacket" actor R. Lee Ermey died at 74 on April 15. Read more here.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

"Night Court" actor Harry Anderson died at 65 on April 16. Read more here.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Country musician and song-writer Randy Scruggs died at 64 on April 17. Read more here.

(Photo by Ed Rode/FilmMagic)

"Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" actress Pamela Gidley died at 52 in April. Read more here.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Dennis Shields, "Real Housewives of New York" star Bethenny Frankel's on-and-off boyfriend, died of an overdose on August 10. Read more here.

(Photo by Alessio Botticelli/GC Images)

"The Goldbergs" actor Jackson Odell died on June 8 at the age of 20. Read more here.

(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

"Sons of Anarchy" actor Alan O'Neill died at the age of 47 in early June. Read more here.

(Photo by Amy Graves/Wireimage)

Former "America's Got Talent" winner Neal Boyd died at the age of 42 in June. Read more here.

(Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Jerry Marren, the last living actor who played a munchkin in "The Wizard of Oz," died in June at the age of 98. Read more here.

(Photo by John M. Heller/FilmMagic)

Actor Robert Mandan died at the age of 86 in early June. Read more here.

(Photo by Malcolm Ali/WireImage)

Hugh Dane, who played Hank the security guard on "The Office," died in June at the age of 75. Read more here.

(Photo by Mitch Haddad/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Jerry Maren, the last-living "Wizard of Oz" munchkin, died at the age of 98 in early June. Read more here.

(Photo by John M. Heller/FilmMagic)

Founding member of The Bay City Rollers, Alan Longmuir, died at the age of 70 at the beginning of July after a brief illness. Read more here.

(Photo by Waring Abbott/Getty Images)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Subscribe to Variety Newsletters and Email Alerts!

Read Full Story