Apr 5, 2008

Charlton Heston, 1924-2008

Before my formal and self-appointed introduction to classic cinema some ten years ago, my fascination with the scope and beauty of old movies was limited to but a few truly great films: The Wizard of Oz, The Ten Commandments, and Ben-Hur. As a very little girl I found myself fascinated with the agonizing tension in Hur's storied chariot race, and there are cherished fragments of my childhood wound up in the wonderment that was the biblical epic of yore: the grandeur and scale of the production, the timeless drama, the Charlton Heston.

Heston, 84 and suffering from Alzheimer's disease since 2002, died of unspecified causes this week in his Beverly Hills home. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Lydia Heston, and two children, Fraser and Holly.

Heston, born in Illinois as John Charles Carter, has portrayed among America's, the world's and even mankind's most famous and influential men, both factual and fabled: Moses of the Bible, Europe's Michaelangelo, Marc Antony, Henry VIII, and Cardinal Richelieu. He played to receptive audiences in science-fiction fare like Planet of The Apes and Soylent Green. And his turn in movies as varied as his screen introduction, 1952's The Greatest Show on Earth, to 1965's masterful The Greatest Story Ever Told guaranteed his appeal over several decades, as well as that moviegoers would associate his performances with greatness, whether the word actually appeared in the film's title or not.

Sadly, much of Heston's cinematic contributions were overshadowed by his outspoken political activism in recent decades, but controversial or not, he has earned a place in the echelon of legendary actors who transformed the medium of motion picture into an effective and enduring means of playing out history's greatest, most profound, most impactful stories - those that will never cease to hold meaning to the human heart - as much as it is of entertainment.


"I can part the Red Sea, but I can't part with you (the audience), which is why I won't exclude you from this stage in my life. ... For now, I'm not changing anything. I'll insist on work when I can; the doctors will insist on rest when I must. If you see a little less spring to my step, if your name fails to leap to my lips, you'll know why. And if I tell you a funny story for the second time, please laugh anyway." - Charlton Heston on the announcement of his diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, 2002

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