I met Tab Hunter when I was about 14; all I knew was that he was this big movie star from back in the day. I didn’t really know of his history beyond that. But I was the only kid in Grease 2, and he was so kind to me. When everybody was hanging out together, I was a little bit on the outside, but Tab would be in his trailer needlepointing, and he taught me how. He told me that his friend Rosey Grier had taught him. The fact that Rosey Grier taught him and then he was teaching me made me feel like I was part of an amazing circle of life. I was being modeled a soft, gentle man in a hard, bronzed matinee-idol exterior.
Tab, who died on July 8 at 86, was so sweet and so generous and just a lovely man. The cast of Grease 2 just had its 35-year reunion in March–which is how long Tab and his partner Allan Glaser had been together–and I couldn’t go, but the very next day I ran into Tab and Allan at a restaurant. We took a picture, and when he put his arms around me, he was still like an oak tree.
In addition to his film career, he was a pioneer. He didn’t necessarily want to come out when he did, but he took control of it. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to be living within that studio system and not be able to live as your true self. Living your truth that way gives you power, and his story is going to mean so much to people who are marginalized. I think that people are going to discover him now. I’m just sad he’s going to miss it.
Adlon is an actor, writer and producer currently starring on Better Things on FX
This appears in the July 23, 2018 issue of TIME.