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Gay icon movie star Tab Hunter dies at 86

Gay icon movie star Tab Hunter dies at 86.jpg

Actor Tab Hunter arrives at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

Stars are mourning Hollywood heartthrob and gay icon Tab Hunter on social media.

The Damn Yankees and Battle Cry actor died on Sunday at age 86 in Santa Barbara, California, after a blood clot in his leg caused cardiac arrest, Allan Glaser, Hunter's partner of more than three decades, confirmed to Variety.

The news was announced on a Facebook page associated with the actor, but a cause of death was not included.

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 1950s and early 60's.

He appeared in macho roles and had chart-topping records such as Young Love. But at the height of his popularity he was dogged by rumours that he was gay. At one point, he was "outed" by the gossip rag, Confidential.

Hunter fell out of favour as the 1960's 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 theatre, as well as appeared in spaghetti westerns.

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 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 on 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.

Elton John, Zachary Quinto, William Shatner, and Diane Warren are among those who have taken to Instagram and Twitter to share their memories and condolences.

"RIP to the most handsome and special man," John wrote on Twitter. "'Young Love' forever."


#RIP to the most handsome and special man. “Young Love” forever. #TabHunter

A post shared by Elton John (@eltonjohn) on

Quinto, who is producing a movie about Hunter's secret love affair with Perkins, penned a lengthy tribute to the late actor on Instagram, along with a black and white photo of a young Hunter, highlighting his ruffled hair and trademark toothy grin.

"So sad to wake up to the news of the passing of Tab Hunter," the Star Trek alumnus wrote. "I was honored to get to know him in the past year and am so grateful to have experienced his sheer joy and love of life. And what a life! Such a rich experience. Such a vital and generous nature. And such a pioneer of self-acceptance and moving through this world with authenticity as his guide. He will be missed greatly. May he rest in peace."

Shatner, who worked with Hunter on the 1950s television series Climax!, wrote a message to Hunter's loved ones on Twitter.

"Condolences to the family of Tab Hunter," he said.

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