Moses Is Dead. Ben Hur Too.
Actor—and political activist—Charlton Heston passes away at age 84.
He played roles that were larger than life—calling down plagues upon Egypt and parting the Red Sea in one film, surviving slavery and an electrifying chariot race in another, and even making contact with an advanced civilization of talking apes in still another.
Charlton Heston, star of The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, and Planet of the Apes, died Saturday night in his Beverly Hills home at the age of 84.
The actor was “known for his chiseled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice, and, of course, for the roles he played,” Heston’s family said in a statement. “No one could ask for a fuller life than his. No man could have given more to his family, to his profession, and to his country.”
Heston was also known for his conservative politics and served as president of the National Rifle Association, an outspoken advocate of gun rights. President Bush hailed him as a “strong advocate for liberty,” while John McCain called Heston a devotee for civil and constitutional rights. Heston was one of Hollywood’s first actors to speak out against racism and was actively involved in the civil rights movement.
As an actor, Heston was perhaps best known for his role as Moses in The Ten Commandments, the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic that is better known for its Technicolor spectacle than for its biblical accuracy. (The real Moses had a stuttering problem, but in the ’56 film, Heston’s marvelous voice is as eloquent as it comes.) Heston also played John the Baptist in 1965’s The Greatest Story Ever Told.
But his best role came in 1959’s Ben-Hur, for which he won an Oscar for Best Actor in the role of a fictional Jewish slave who would—after a face-to-face meeting with Christ—eventually rise above his circumstances and win a legendary chariot race that still ranks as one of the most incredible scenes in movie history.
In 1968’s Planet of the Apes, Heston played an astronaut who crash-lands on a planet in the distant future—a planet where humans are the lesser race and apes have learned speech and technology. (Three years later, Heston would play another sci-fi role in The Omega Man, as one of few survivors of a biological holocaust; the film, based on a novel by Richard Matheson, was remade last year into I Am Legend with Will Smith.)
In 1997, Heston returned to a “biblical role” as host of Charlton Heston Presents the Bible, a video series shot in the Middle East which also comes with a companion coffee table book. (Peter T. Chattaway, a critic for CT Movies, wrote about the projects here.)
Luminaries attend Heston's funeral
LOS ANGELES - Charlton Heston, one of the last lions of Old Hollywood, was remembered at his funeral Saturday as devoutly religious and patriotic — a man who was an imposing figure both in his politics and on the big screen.
Heston died April 5 at age 84 in his Beverly Hills home with his wife, Lydia, at his side following a battle with Alzheimer's disease. The service was held at the Episcopal Parish of St. Matthews, a church in a wooded canyon above Pacific Palisades.
"Charlton sat every Sunday morning right there," said Rev. Michael Scott Seiler, pointing to a front pew in the modernist wooden church shaped with seats arranged in a half moon.
About 250 people attended the funeral, including family members, politicians and actors.
A frail Nancy Reagan entered the church on the arm of Tom Selleck. Following the nearly two-hour ceremony, Reagan left with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Other notables from Heston's Hollywood history included Olivia DeHavilland, Keith Carradine, Pat Boone, Oliver Stone and Rob Reiner.
A love of poetry, country
The first part of the ceremony was devoted to memories of Heston. His daughter, Holly Heston Rochell, recalled her father's love of poetry and recited the words of Shakespeare and Tennyson. Her brother, Fraser Clarke Heston, reminisced about his father's prowess on his tennis court, where he played every Sunday with friends.
He talked about his father's devotion to America and said he "loved his country."
"I never knew a finer man; I will never know a finer man," he said.
Heston was one of the biggest box-office draws of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, often playing legendary leaders or ordinary men thrown into heroic struggles. Some of his notable roles included Marc Antony in "Julius Caesar" and "Antony and Cleopatra"; Michelangelo in "The Agony and the Ecstasy"; John the Baptist in "The Greatest Story Ever Told"; and an astronaut on a topsy-turvy world where simians rule in "Planet of the Apes."
In recent years, Heston became better known for his conservative politics and position on gun rights as head of the National Rifle Association. Heston also campaigned for Republican presidential and congressional candidates and against affirmative action.
'A beautiful service'
Near the end of his five-year tenure as NRA president in 2002, Heston disclosed he had symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease. Heston told his fellow NRA members when he stepped down that his time in office was "quite a ride. ... I loved every minute of it."
Heston was born Charles Carter in a Chicago suburb on Oct. 4, 1923. He grew up in the Michigan wilderness and after serving in the Army during World War II began acting.
After acting in two independent films by a college classmate, Heston was put under contract by producer Hal B. Wallis ("Casablanca"). He was later cast as the circus manager in "The Greatest Show on Earth" and then as Moses in "The Ten Commandments."
Heston followed with several other films before "Ben-Hur" elevated him to the top of Hollywood's A-list.
Michael Levine, who was Heston's publicist for 20 years and attended the service, said he was struck by how many people attended from both sides of the political aisle. He attributed this to Heston's "virtue and character."
"It was a beautiful service," he said.
Here is my tribute to one of my favorite actors, especially since my band's marching show was music from Ben-Hur. Here is a video of our state performance, which we earned the highest score of any band in state competition to date at that point (kinda like Ben-Hur's unprecedented 12 Oscar nominations at the time).
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