Actor, recording artist, film producer, and author Tab Hunter has died at the age of 86. The news was first shared on Hunter's Facebook page; his longtime partner, producer Allan Glaser, later confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that he passed away in Santa Barbara, California, following a heart attack.
Mr. Hunter is perhaps best remembered for his performance as Joe Hardy in the 1958 film Damn Yankees, adapted from the 1955 Broadway musical with a score by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler.
Born Arthur Andrew Kelm on July 11, 1931, in New York City, Mr. Hunter grew up mostly in California. He began his film career with a small role in 1950's The Lawless. He was later put on contract at Warner Bros., where he would make his star-making performance in the World War II drama Battle Cry in 1955. Noted for his All-American looks, Mr. Hunter became one of the studio's most popular star, paired with fellow Warner Bros. favorite Natalie Wood in such films as The Burning Hills and The Girl He Left Behind.
Mr. Hunter also had a successful singing career. His 1957 single "Young Love" made number one on Billboard's Hot 100 List and later received gold certification from the RIAA. His vocal abilities and film success led to his being cast as Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees; Mr. Hunter is the only principal player in the film that did not originate his role in the original Broadway cast.
In 1964, Mr. Hunter made his sole Broadway appearance in a short-lived revival of Tennessee Williams' The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, starring as Christopher Flanders opposite Tallulah Bankhead's Mrs. Goforth. The production used a script somewhat revised by Williams following the work's Broadway premiere just a year earlier.
Mr. Hunter continued to appear in films through the 1980s, including two memorable screen performances opposite drag legend Divine. Polyester, directed by John Waters, was released in 1981. The two next co-starred in 1985's Lust in the Dust, a western comedy film that also featured Lainie Kazan. As substitute teacher Mr. Stuart in 1982's Grease 2, Mr. Hunter once again sang on screen, leading the song "Reproduction."
The film star released his autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star in 2005, in which Mr. Hunter came out as a gay man after years of industry rumors. A documentary of the same name, telling the story of Mr. Hunter's experience as a closeted gay heartthrob actor in 1950s Hollywood was released in 2015.