Openly gay actor also worked on TV, stage

Jack Wrangler, a ruggedly handsome 1970s-era porn star whose openness about his homosexuality made him a symbol of self-confidence for many gay men, died April 7 in Manhattan from complications of lung disease. He was 62.

His life of sometimes surprising turns — the openly gay star found decades-long love with singer Margaret Whiting — was chronicled in the documentary “Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon,” released last fall.

“Jack Wrangler knew the power of image-making and inspired an entire generation to be comfortable in their own skin and to become the man of their dreams,” said the film’s director, Jeffrey Schwarz, calling Wrangler “truly a class act.”

Born John Stillman in Beverly Hills, Calif., the son of TV producer Robert Stillman, Wrangler got his start performing in the religiously themed 1950s NBC series “The Faith of Our Children.”

As a young man, he was bartending and go-go dancing in the West Hollywood gay community when a role in a San Francisco play sent his career hurtling in a new direction — under a new last name, borrowed from the label on his plaid work shirt.

His nude scene in the show led to modeling and a string of gay, and later straight, erotic films, where his steely blue eyes, muscled physique, and open-shirted swagger made him a star.

“For me, I felt I needed some true grit in my life, y’know? I felt that I had this formal, white-handkerchief upbringing and that I was not going to survive in the world unless I got down and did something gritty,” Wrangler, who appeared in such sweaty escapades as “A Night at the Adonis” and “The Devil in Miss Jones: Part II,” told the Palm Beach Post newspaper in a 2005 interview.

His resume grew to include more than 80 adult films, spurring a 1984 autobiography called “The Jack Wrangler Story: What’s a Nice Boy Like You Doing?” and a one-man off-Broadway show.

He met Whiting, a big band-era singer whose hits include “That Old Black Magic” and “Moonlight in Vermont,” in the 1970s.

Their romance turned tabloid heads: She is 22 years his senior, and Wrangler continued to describe himself as gay even in an interview with the gay magazine the Advocate last fall.

Nonetheless, Wrangler told the Chicago Tribune in 1985 that the two “see things the same way, comically, professionally and romantically.” The pair eventually married.

He got out of porn after meeting Whiting and turned his attention to theater and cabaret, crafting Whiting’s cabaret acts and several shows around the legacy of songwriter Johnny Mercer, who had fostered her career.

He was credited with conceiving “Dream,” a 1997 Broadway revue of Mercer songs that featured Whiting.

He also created and directed a show pairing Mercer songs with excerpts from “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” John Berendt’s best-selling book about a murder in Mercer’s hometown of Savannah, Ga.

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