According to a blanket statement to the press from his family, Charlton Heston, who passed away on Saturday (and who revealed in 2002 that he had Alzheimer's disease), "was seen by the world as larger than life. He was known for his chiseled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice, and, of course, for the roles he played. 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."
Sounds like the Chuck Heston to whom I was introduced via his monumental performance as Moses in Cecil B. Demille's 1956 cinema classic, The Ten Commandments (which also happens to be my Number One Favorite Movie of All Time).
Though I was never that crazy about Heston's politics (he loved guns and conservatively supported wars), with his iconic physical and vocal charisma, he was the consumate actor and star.
"I have a face that belongs in another century," he often remarked.
Cue the big Biblical epics, the aforementioned The Ten Commandments, as well as 1959's Ben-Hur, which earned 11 Academy Awards, including lead actor for Heston - and the sci-fi/futuristic tale, Planet of the Apes (penned by Rod Twilight Zone Serling, and which beget four sequels).
Off-screen, the actor's actor served as president of the Screen Actors Guild and chairman of the American Film Institute and marched in the civil rights movement of the 1950s. As time marched on, Heston's conservative brow increased, and campaigned for conservative candidates. In June 1998, he was elected president of the National Rifle Association.
Meanwhile, there were other historical figures he portrayed:
Andrew Jackson (The President's Lady, The Buccaneer), title role of El Cid, John the Baptist (The Greatest Story Ever Told, which also happens to be one of the greatest films ever made - as every frame is a portrait), Michelangelo (The Agony and the Ecstasy), General Gordon (Khartoum), Marc Antony (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra), Cardinal Richelieu (The Three Musketeers), Henry VIII (The Prince and the Pauper).
"What acting offered me was the chance to be many other people," he said in a 1986 interview.
And playing those additional individuals commenced in 1941, when he won an acting scholarship to Northwestern University, where he ruled the campus stage and appeared on Chicago radio. In 1943, he enlisted in the Air Force and served as a radio-gunner in the Aleutians. In 1944 he married another Northwestern drama student, Lydia Clarke, and after his army discharge in 1947, they moved to New York to become acting work. Finding none, they were hired as codirectors and principal performers at a summer theater in Asheville, N.C.
Back in New York, the Hestons began finding acting jobs. With his 6-feet-2 form and ruggedly handsome face, Heston won roles in TV soap operas and plays. He also eventually authored several books: The Actor's Life: Journals 1956-1976 (published in 1978), Beijing Diary: 1990 (about his direction of the play The Caine Mutiny Court Martial in Chinese), In the Arena: An Autobiography (1995), Charlton Heston's Hollywood: 50 Years of American Filmmaking (1998).
The Hestons gave birth to a son, Frasier, and daughter, Holly Ann, and celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1994 at a party with Hollywood and political friends. They had been married 64 years when he died.
Of course, he will live immortal - or at least every Easter, for the annual screening of The Ten Commandments, all to which the conservative Heston assuredly adhered - except maybe for Number 2, "Thou shall not make for yourself any idol..."
That one we all broke in his presence.