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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston 1924 - 2008

Playing cardinals, presidents, geniuses, tyrants and others of power and stature, Heston came to embody a heroic dimension. He performed in nearly every genre, from Biblical spectacles to Westerns, historical period pieces and war stories.

Heston's towering presence was tailor-made for the widescreen epics of the '50s and '60s, when he starred in such films as "The Ten Commandments," "El Cid," "55 Days in Peking," "The Agony and the Ectasy" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

"I have a face that belongs in another century," he often remarked.

A man of civic responsibility and far-ranging interests, Heston was awarded the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1978. He served on the National Council of the Arts from 1966 to 1971 and co-chaired the White House Task Force on the Arts and Humanities.

He long devoted his beneficent energies to the American Film Institute, serving as chairman of its board of trustees from 1971-1982 and president from 1983-2002. In 2003, the AFI established the Charleton Heston Award to recognize contributions to film and television.

Heston also served six terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1965 to 1971, and later served on its board of governors.

Having campaigned for Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and John F. Kennedy in 1960, Heston was actively involved in the civil rights movement, taking part in Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 civil rights march in Washington, D.C.

By the '80s, Heston took up conservative causes and became a supporter of Ronald Reagan. In June, 1998, he was elected president of the National Rifle Association, a post he held until 2003, earning him both praise and castigation, especially among his Hollywood peers. At the NRA's 2000 convention, raising a flintlock rifle over his head, he delivered a line that seemed to come straight out of one of his films, when he said that presidential candidate Al Gore would take away his Second Amendment rights only "from my cold, dead hands."

In 2003, Heston was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

"The largeness of character that comes across the screen has also been seen throughout his life," President Bush said at the time.

Heston is survived by his wife Lydia, his son Fraser Clarke Heston, his daughter Holly Heston Rochell and three grandchildren.


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