April 7, 2008
Moses Is Dead. Ben Hur Too.
Actor—and political activist—Charlton Heston passes away at age 84.
He played roles that were larger than life - calling down plagues upon Egypt and parting the Red Sea in one film, surviving slavery and an electrifying chariot race in another, and even making contact with an advanced civilization of talking apes in still another.
Charlton Heston, star of The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, and Planet of the Apes, died Saturday night in his Beverly Hills home at the age of 84.
The actor was "known for his chiseled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice, and, of course, for the roles he played," Heston's family said in a statement. "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."
President Bush hailed him as a "strong advocate for liberty," while John McCain called Heston a devotee for civil and constitutional rights. Heston was one of Hollywood's first actors to speak out against racism and was actively involved in the civil rights movement.
As an actor, Heston was perhaps best known for his role as Moses in The Ten Commandments, the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic that is better known for its Technicolor spectacle than for its biblical accuracy. (The real Moses had a stuttering problem, but in the '56 film, Heston's marvelous voice is as eloquent as it comes.) Heston also played John the Baptist in 1965's The Greatest Story Ever Told.
But his best role came in 1959's Ben-Hur, for which he won an Oscar for Best Actor in the role of a fictional Jewish slave who would - after a face-to-face meeting with Christ - eventually rise above his circumstances and win a legendary chariot race that still ranks as one of the most incredible scenes in movie history.
In 1968's Planet of the Apes, Heston played an astronaut who crash-lands on a planet in the distant future - a planet where humans are the lesser race and apes have learned speech and technology. (Three years later, Heston would play another sci-fi role in The Omega Man, as one of few survivors of a biological holocaust; the film, based on a novel by Richard Matheson, was remade last year into I Am Legend with Will Smith.)
In 1997, Heston returned to a "biblical role" as host of Charlton Heston Presents the Bible, a video series shot in the Middle East which also comes with a companion coffee table book. (Peter T. Chattaway, a critic for CT Movies, wrote about the projects here.)