Blond, blue-eyed Tab Hunter was so good-looking that he became a leading Hollywood movie star of the 1950s and 1960s. He was very athletic as a competitive figure skater in his youth and a lifelong accomplished horseman, so he was featured in roles such as the baseball player in the 1958 musical film Damn Yankees. He was also a popular singer whose 1957 hit record, "Young Love," sold more than a million copies and was number one on the Hit Parade for six weeks. One year his fans sent him more than 62,000 valentines. His studio promoted rumors of romances with two of Hollywood's most beautiful actresses, Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood, but he revealed later that they were dates arranged just for publicity. In 2005, he authored an autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, in which he told the world that he was a homosexual who had stayed closeted in an era when the news would have ended his career. The book became an instant New York Times best-seller. He described his long-term relationships with actor Anthony Perkins, champion figure skater Ronnie Robertson, and — for the last 35 years of his life — film producer Allan Glaser.
Three days before his 87th birthday, on July 8, 2018, he appeared to be in good health but he died suddenly when a deep clot in his leg traveled to his lungs and blocked the flow of blood through his lungs, which caused his heart to stop beating.
From Humble Beginnings, a Successful Life
He was born in New York City in 1931 during the Great Depression to a Jewish father and a German Catholic immigrant mother. His parents divorced before he started school. He was raised in relative poverty in California by his mother and maternal grandparents, and went to Catholic schools there. When he was 15, he lied about his age so he could join the United States Coast Guard, but he was discharged soon afterward when they found out how old he really was. At age 17, he was introduced to Hollywood talent agent Henry Willson, who was known for representing the Hollywood "hunks" such as Rock Hudson, Robert Wagner and Troy Donahue. Willson who got him acting jobs based on his extreme good looks, and changed his name from Arthur Andrew Gelien to Tab Hunter. His first movie, The Lawless (1950), started his climb to movie stardom.
His peak movie years were the 1950s and 1960s, when he appeared in more than 40 films and television productions. Even as his youthful popularity waned, he had a long and fruitful acting career with 30 more featured roles over the years. In 2015 his partner, Allan Glaser, produced the award-winning documentary, Tab Hunter Confidential, based on his 2005 autobiography.
What is a Pulmonary Embolism?
Hunter died of a pulmonary embolism from a blood clot that started in the deep veins in his leg, broke loose and traveled to his lungs. This happens to more than 900,000 North Americans every year and more than 100,000 die from it. You can develop a clot anywhere in your body. A clot in your leg or arm may cause no symptoms at all or can cause localized swelling, pain, warm sensation or reddish discoloration. Most often, these symptoms are only in one arm or leg, not both. A clot that travels to completely block an artery to your heart will cause a heart attack, while a clot that travels to the brain will cause a stroke.
Many people who develop clots in their lungs have such small clots that they have no symptoms at all. A larger clot blocks some of the blood flowing to the heart and can cause sudden shortness of breath, bluish coloration of the skin, rapid breathing, anxiety, restlessness, chest pain, spitting up blood or a rapid heartbeat. A very large clot can block the flow of blood through the lungs completely to prevent blood from circulating through the body, causing the heart to stop and the person to die.
Factors that Increase Risk for Forming Clots
The following factors increase risk for clots:
• a family history of blood clots
• history of a previous heart attack or stroke
• various hereditary blood clotting disorders
• some types of cancers
• prolonged sitting time, such as on long trips
• any situation that causes a person to be bed-ridden
• recent surgery
• trauma to any part of the body
• some types of medications such as diuretics or birth control pills
If you are in a situation that causes you to be inactive for long periods, try to get up and walk as often as you reasonably can. If you are at increased risk for clots, your doctor may prescribe anti-clotting medications. However, these medications can result in excessive bleeding if you get injured in any way.
Lessons from Tab Hunter's Death
The recent medical literature is full of articles showing that your lifestyle is a major determinant of how long you live and what diseases you may suffer. People who are overweight, smoke, do not exercise, and develop predominantly-lifestyle diseases such as diabetes that limit their physical activity, are the ones most likely to develop clots that can kill them. Therefore the same rules for preventing heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and certain cancers also apply to preventing clots. However, Tab Hunter stayed in excellent shape all his life, and his partner said his death was "sudden and unexpected." This should remind us that you can do everything right and still die without any warning.
July 11, 1931 – July 8, 2018