ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The actor Tab Hunter has died just days before his 87th birthday. Young women swooned over him in the 1950s. He was known as the Sigh Guy for his all-American boy-next-door looks. He was also touted as Hollywood's most eligible bachelor - talented, blond and handsome.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUNG LOVE")
TAB HUNTER: (Singing) They say for every boy and girl, there's just one love in this whole world, and I know I found mine.
SHAPIRO: Tab Hunter had a pop hit in 1957 with this song, "Young Love." It was at the height of his fame.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
And while he had no dramatic training, he acted in dozens of movies, including the World War II drama "Battle Cry;" "The Burning Hills," a Western with Natalie Wood and "The Pleasure Of His Company," a romantic comedy with Fred Astaire and Debbie Reynolds. He also starred in the movie version of the musical "Damn Yankees," the story of a baseball player who sold his soul to the devil.
SHAPIRO: But his greatest role during those years was simply playing Tab Hunter. He was known as Arthur Gelien before he took that screen name. And for years while he wooed Hollywood's leading ladies, he hid the fact that he was gay. Hunter told Terry Gross on WHYY's Fresh Air that at that time, he didn't mind.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
HUNTER: I was a young, wide-eyed kid thrown into the studio system and starring in motion pictures, and I loved it. I mean, God, what young man wouldn't love all that stuff?
CHANG: Tab Hunter made an unlikely comeback in the 1980s. He co-starred with drag queen Divine in John Waters' film "Polyester." The role parodied his earlier onscreen image.
JEFFREY SCHWARTZ: He played a love scene with Divine, and that was a really brave and wonderful thing that Tab did, and it revitalized his career.
CHANG: That's Jeffrey Schwartz, who made a feature-length documentary called "Tab Hunter Confidential." It was based on Hunter's 2006 memoir, the first time he publicly came out as gay.
SHAPIRO: And the name Tab Hunter - Jeffrey Schwartz says talent agent Henry Willson came up with it when Hunter started working in Hollywood.
SCHWARTZ: Henry said, well, we have to tab you something. That's how the first name came in. And then Tab was a lover of horses, so Henry said, well, you love horses, and you love hunters and jumpers. So let's call you Tab Hunter instead of Tab Jumper.
SHAPIRO: Tab Hunter died yesterday from cardiac arrest. Producer Allan Glaser, his partner of 30 years, said his death was sudden and unexpected.
CHANG: Tab Hunter was 86. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.