A man of many roles: the legacy of Charlton Heston

On April 5, 2008, the admirable Charlton Heston passed away at the age of 84. During a 60 year career as an experienced actor, Heston starred in almost 100 movies. He performed many roles which defined our popular culture, playing great figures from both history and fiction.

Heston gained fame after playing as Moses in “The Ten Commandments” and as Judah in “Ben Hur.” He starred in epic films such as “El Cid,” “Khartoum” and “The Agony & the Ecstasy,” where he portrayed Michelangelo. Both a true actor, appearing on stage as Sir Thomas More in “A Man For All Seasons,” and a Shakespearean, best known for playing Marc Antony in “Julius Caesar,” Heston had many roles under his belt by the time he passed away.  

Heston was more than just a performer. In his movies, he represented true character and integrity even greater than that of himself. “Heston was a grand, ornery anachronism, the sinewy symbol of a time when Hollywood took itself seriously, when heroes came from history books, not comic books,” critic Richard Corliss said.

Off the screen, Heston was a public citizen who lent his voice to causes he believed in. A champion of civil rights, he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington in 1963. Originally a Democrat, Heston later switched to the Republican Party, following his good friend Ronald Reagan whom he supported.

Similar to Reagan, Heston was the president of the Screen Actors Guild and served as a five term president for the NRA (National Rifle Association). Whether in real life or in movies, Heston saw his place “in the arena” just like former president Teddy Roosevelt and was a man of many roles always up for any task.

Heston’s stardom came when director Cecil B. DeMille gave him the role of Moses in “The Ten Commandments.” As the prophet who freed the Israelites from bondage in Pharaoh’s Egypt, he parted the Red Sea and received the Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai. This film became a classic and forever associated Heston in the public’s mind as a hero of Biblical stature. Director Cecil B. DeMille himself recognized the talent of Heston early on, believing that, “To transfer the Bible to the screen, you cannot cheat. You have to believe.”  

Heston worked with other great directors like Orson Welles, Sam Peckinpah, William Wyler and played opposite to stars such as Sophia Loren, Gary Cooper, and Yul Brynner. He won the Academy Award for “Ben Hur” in 1959, as well as the chariot race in the movie. In the sci-fi classic “Planet of the Apes,” he played Taylor, who was an astronaut held captive by a civilization run by apes. In the movie, he was the spokesman for the survival of humanity.

Charlton Heston was an icon in every role he played. There will never be another figure in Hollywood like him. Charlton Heston was a hero to many and a man that no one should ever forget.  

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