Charlton Heston, 84; actor, Oscar winner, played grand figures
The Oscar winner played Moses and Michelangelo, then later became a darling of conservatism.
GREAT MEN: In a 1995 interview covering his film career and political activism, Charlton Heston said: "The egalitarian world view now considered politically correct makes us uneasy with the idea that one individual is better than the rest of us. But having played several great men, I can tell you that they are better than we are ...." (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / September 2, 1995)
Heston died Saturday at his Beverly Hills home, said family spokesman Bill Powers. In 2002, he had been diagnosed with symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer's disease.
FOR THE RECORD:
Heston obituary: The obituary of Charlton Heston in the April 6 A section reported that Yakima Canutt directed the chariot race scene in the film "Ben-Hur," and a subsequent correction said Andrew Marton was the director. Both men were second-unit directors on the film, according to the on-screen credits and the Directors Guild of America. According to the American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films, "Contemporary information . . . and modern interviews suggest that, while Marton was responsible for the overall staging and shooting of the sequence, Canutt was responsible for coordinating the actors, stuntmen, horses and chariots for the race itself." —
With a booming baritone voice, the tall, ruggedly handsome actor delivered his signature role as the prophet Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 Biblical extravaganza "The Ten Commandments," raising a rod over his head as God miraculously parts the Red Sea.
Heston won the Academy Award for best actor in another religious blockbuster in 1959's "Ben-Hur," racing four white horses at top speed in one of the cinema's legendary action sequences: the 15-minute chariot race in which his character, a proud and noble Jew, competes against his childhood Roman friend.
Heston stunned the entertainment world in August 2002 when he made a poignant and moving videotaped address announcing his illness.
Late in life, Heston's stature as a political firebrand overshadowed his acting. He became demonized by gun-control advocates and liberal Hollywood when he became president of the National Rifle Assn. in 1998.
Heston answered his critics in a now-famous pose that mimicked Moses' parting of the Red Sea. But instead of a rod, Heston raised a flintlock over his head and challenged his detractors to pry the rifle "from my cold, dead hands."
Like the chariot race and the bearded prophet Moses, Heston will be best remembered for several indelible cinematic moments: playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with Orson Welles in the oil fields in "Touch of Evil," his rant at the end of "Planet of the Apes" when he sees the destruction of the Statue of Liberty, his discovery that "Soylent Green is people!" in the sci-fi hit "Soylent Green" and the dead Spanish hero on his steed in "El Cid."
The New Yorker's film critic Pauline Kael, in her review of 1968's "Planet of the Apes," wrote: "All this wouldn't be so forceful or so funny if it weren't for the use of Charlton Heston in the [leading] role. With his perfect, lean-hipped, powerful body, Heston is a god-like hero; built for strength, he is an archetype of what makes Americans win. He represents American power -- and he has the profile of an eagle."
For decades, the 6-foot-2 Heston was a towering figure in the world of movies, television and the stage.
"He was the screen hero of the 1950s and 1960s, a proven stayer in epics, and a pleasing combination of piercing blue eyes and tanned beefcake," David Thomson wrote in his book "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film."
Heston also was blessed by working with legendary directors such as DeMille in "The Greatest Show on Earth" and again in "The Ten Commandments," Welles in "Touch of Evil," Sam Peckinpah in "Major Dundee," William Wyler in "The Big Country" and "Ben-Hur," George Stevens in "The Greatest Story Ever Told," Franklin Schaffner in "The War Lord" and "Planet of the Apes" and Anthony Mann in "El Cid."
"Four or five of those men would be on anybody's all-time great list," Heston said in a 1983 interview. "And if I picked up one scrap, one piece of business, from each of them, then today I would be a hell of a director."
John Charles Carter was born Oct. 4, 1923, in Evanston, Ill. His father, Russell Whitford Carter, moved the family to St. Helen, Mich., where Heston lived an almost idyllic boyhood, hunting and fishing.
He entered Northwestern University's School of Speech in 1941 on a scholarship from the drama club. While there, he fell in love with a young speech student named Lydia Clarke. They were married March 14, 1944, after he had enlisted in the Army Air Forces. Their union was one of the most durable in Hollywood, lasting 64 years in a town known for its highly publicized divorces, romances and remarriages.
Theatrical name choice
After the war, he went on countless auditions as a stage actor in New York. His professional name was a combination of his mother's maiden name, Charlton, and the last name of his stepfather, Chester Heston.