(real name John Charles Carter
; born October 4, 1923 – died April 5, 2008), was an American actor, once described by Orson Welles
as "Hollywood's Only Boyscout" due to his diligence as well as being a genuinely Nice Guy
. He was best known for his leading roles in Epic Movies
of the late 50's / early 60's as well as some notable Science Fiction
movies such as Planet of the Apes (1968)
and Soylent Green
. Big Damn Hero
moments happen a lot in his films, and he was something of a Mr. Fanservice
as well. He is sometimes unfairly dismissed as a Large Ham
due to his tendency to play larger than life heroes - though in some cases that's exactly why his fans love him.
In an interesting case of What Could Have Been
, a handful of his films were originally offered to Burt Lancaster
, specifically Dark City
(Heston's film debut), Ben-Hur
(for which Heston won his only Oscar for best actor), The Agony and the Ecstasy
Heston was also known for his political activism. In The Fifties
and The Sixties
he was one of a handful of Hollywood actors to speak openly against racism and was an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. Initially a moderate Democrat, he later supported conservative Republicans and was president of the National Rifle Association
from 1998 to 2003. The (in)famous "You'll get my rifle when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!"
has angered many gun control advocates while Michael Moore
's controversial Bowling for Columbine
seemed to hurt his image with some modern audiences. Sadly, he was also accused of being a homophobe later in life due to his apparent disagreement with the Ho Yay
subtext of Ben-Hur
and evidence suggesting the painter Michelangelo Buonarroti
, whom he portrayed in The Agony and the Ecstasy
, had been gay, even though Heston himself vehemently denied being a homophobe.
He was a large man with a deep voice and genuine off-screen gravitas. When he met George Mac Donald Fraser
at the premiere of The Three Musketeers (1973)
, he introduced himself from behind the writer by saying, "I'm Charlton Heston." Fraser turned around, startled, and replied, "By God, so you are!"
They finally got Heston's rifle in 2008 a few months short of what would have been his 85th birthday due to complications from Alzheimer's and pneumonia. He is survived by his wife, Lydia Clarke (who also dabbled in acting for a time and even appears in 1968's Will Penny
, which Heston often cited as his personal favorite of his films), son Fraser Clarke (who actually played the infant Moses in The Ten Commandments
and dabbled in screenwriting and directing for a time), adopted daughter Holly and a brood of grandchildren.