Why There's So Much Love For 'Gawjuss Gay Icon' Tab Hunter

Tab Hunter's headshot
Tab Hunter's headshot, circa 1955. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Tab Hunter was a 1950s teen heartthrob, but he broke ground in his 2005 memoir by speaking openly about being a closeted gay actor in old school Hollywood. He died Sunday night, three days shy of his 87th birthday.

"I believed, wholeheartedly — still do — that a person's happiness depends on being true to themselves," Hunter wrote. "The dilemma, of course, was that being true to myself — and I'm talking sexually now — was impossible in 1953."

Hunter said he hadn't admitted it to himself at that point — while he was considering getting married, he was also in a relationship with a world-class male figure skater, Ronnie Robertson.

You can also see his story in the documentary based on his memoir — it's currently available on Netflix.

Hunter was a mega star, most remembered for 1958's classic Damn Yankees.

He was even a double threat, topping the pop charts as a singer with "Young Love." The song left an impression, with Elton John tweeting about Hunter, "RIP to the most handsome and special man. 'Young Love' forever."

But it was his openness about who he was that has led numerous celebrities to speak up about what he meant to them.

If you think his name sounds awesome but really fake, you are absolutely correct — it was the creation of talent agent Henry Willson, who also dubbed fellow stars Rock Hudson and Rory Calhoun. "Tab" was literally slang at the time for "name."

According to the AP, Willson told the then-Arthur Kelm, "We've got to find something to tab you with. Do you have any hobbies?" Hunter's response: "I ride horses. Hunters." An unforgettable name was the result.

After his ride as a heartthrob, he took a hard left turn in the '80s by performing in movies with iconic drag performer Divine, including in John Waters' Polyester. Waters was among those who spoke about Hunter in the 2015 documentary about his life, based on his memoir.


Hunter died of a blood clot in his leg that caused a heart attack, according to his husband, producer Allan Glaser, the AP reports. They lived together in Montecito in Santa Barbara County.


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