Charlton Heston, RIP

Charlton Heston played holy men, Presidents, and cowboys, but all with the same human strengths and frailties. His commanding voice and strong presence made him one of Hollywood’s legendary leading men, while his political beliefs gradually set him apart from most in his profession. Today he finally joins the rest of the legends in entertainment as well as the holy men and Presidents he portrayed on the silver screen (via Memeorandum):

Charlton Heston, the Oscar-winning actor who achieved stardom playing larger-than-life figures including Moses, Michelangelo and Andrew Jackson and went on to become an unapologetic gun advocate and darling of conservative causes, has died. He was 84.

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.

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. ….

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.

Ironically so, since Heston marched with Martin Luther King in the pre-Civil Rights Act period of the civil-rights movement. Hollywood turned its back on one of its biggest icons for the sin of becoming Republican and of supporting gun rights. Of course, while Hollywood rejected Heston for his stand on the 2nd Amendment, it churned out more and more films dedicated to mass shootings and indiscriminate violence. Heston couldn’t have fired more bullets in his entire lifetime than in a year of Hollywood movies.

Those ironies and hypocrisies amount to little against Heston’s lifetime of work, on stage and screen as well as in supporting gun rights. Even Democrats these days don’t argue for gun control, chastised by national elections and common sense. The Supreme Court appears ready to acknowledge what Heston had long insisted — that the Constitution guarantees an individual right to gun ownership. His dedication to the Constitution may well be his greatest work.

But of course, it won’t be his most memorable. Whether in classic movies like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, in science fiction like Planet of the Apes or Soylent Green, or in later, quieter appearances in Tombstone, True Lies, and self-deprecating cameos in Wayne’s World 2 and the remake of Planet of the Apes, Heston has left a remarkable and diverse body of work that will remain with us long after his ankle-biting critics have returned to Oblivion.

Godspeed, Mr. Heston.

Update: Jennifer Harper was kind enough to include my thoughts in the Washington Times obituary for Charlton Heston.