Oscar-winner Charlton Heston dies at 84

Sun Apr 6, 2008 5:57pm EDT
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By Bernie Woodall

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar-winning U.S. actor Charlton Heston, whose chiseled features and commanding presence won him epic roles from Moses to Michelangelo and became the face of American gun rights, died on Saturday night at age 84.

Heston died at his home in Beverly Hills, California, with wife Lydia at his side, the family said in a statement. Heston, who won the 1959 best actor Oscar for the title role in "Ben-Hur" in which he did many of his own chariot race stunts, had announced in 2002 that he was suffering symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

"Charlton Heston was seen by the world as larger than life," the family said. "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. In his own words, 'I have lived such a wonderful life! I've lived enough for two people."'

The family said a private memorial service would be held.

In his acting heyday, Heston's rugged features and conservative lifestyle seemed to belong to another age. As director Anthony Mann said: "Put a toga on him and he looks perfect." Frank Sinatra once joked: "That guy Heston has to watch it. If he's not careful, he'll get actors a good name."

Between super-spectacles ("The 10 Commandments," "Ben-Hur"), science fiction movies ("Planet of the Apes," "Soylent Green") and disaster epics ("Earthquake"), Heston pushed for screen versions of Shakespearean plays, directing one, "Anthony and Cleopatra."

Heston's most controversial role came not in a movie but as president of the National Rifle Association, the gun-rights lobby group, from 1998 to 2003. He made his stance clear when he stood at podium during a convention, holding an antique flintlock rifle above his head and told gun-control advocates they would not get his gun unless they could pry it "from my cold, dead hands."

"He believed the sanctity of American freedom was defined by the Bill of Rights and the Bill of Rights was what made the United States different from every country in the world," Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, told CNN.   Continued...

<p>Hollywood actor Charlton Heston waves to his fans after he received the "Golden Medal of the City of Vienna," from Vienna's Mayor Michael Haeupl in this April 29, 1995 file photo. Heston passed away at the age of 84, his family said on April 5, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer/Files</p>