- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. Oscar-winning actor Charlton Heston said yesterday that he is suffering from what appears to be Alzheimer's disease, a slow-progressing and fatal brain disorder that gradually robs the victim of the ability to remember and think.
"For now I'm not changing anything," said Mr. Heston, 77, in a taped statement played for the press at the Beverly Hills Hotel, not far from his home. "I'll insist on work when I can; the doctors will insist on rest when I must. If you see a little less spring in my step, if your name fails to leap to my lips, you'll know why. And if I tell you a funny story for the second time, please laugh anyway."
Mr. Heston will not step down as president of the National Rifle Association nor curtail his schedule of campaigning for pro-gun-rights political candidates this fall, spokesman and longtime friend Tony Makris told reporters.
"I'm neither giving up nor giving in," said Mr. Heston, looking fit and healthy in the three-minute tape. "I believe that I am still the fighter that Dr. King and JFK and Ronald Reagan knew, but it's a fight I must someday call a draw. I must reconcile courage and surrender in equal measure."
Mr. Heston's fifth one-year term as NRA president ends in April, and he has not indicated whether he will seek a sixth, an association spokesman said. Mr. Makris told reporters that Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the NRA, had asked Mr. Heston to remain as president at least through the end of his term.
Mr. Heston is best known for his 60-year film career, beginning in 1941 with the lead role in "Peer Gynt." He has appeared as Moses in the 1956 epic "The Ten Commandments," Michelangelo in the 1965 "The Agony and the Ecstasy," and twice as Marc Anthony, in 1970's "Julius Caesar" and 1973's "Anthony and Cleopatra."
In 1959, he cemented his reputation as the leading epic actor of his generation when he won an Academy Award as best actor in the title role of "Ben-Hur."
He is widely known to a younger generation for his lead roles in the science fiction hits "Planet of the Apes" in 1968 and "Soylent Green" in 1973.
He has also directed three films and written the screenplay for one, "Anthony and Cleopatra."
In his announcement yesterday, Mr. Heston paid tribute to his fans and said his decision to go public was consistent with a life lived in the spotlight.
"I've lived my whole life on the stage and screen before you," he told fans. "I've found purpose and meaning in your response. I can part the Red Sea, but I can't part with you, which is why I can't exclude you from this stage in my life."
Mr. Heston has been a longtime conservative political voice, particularly since taking over as head of the NRA in 1998. He has also been an advocate for veterans' issues and is a fixture of events celebrating his fellow veterans of World War II, when he served three years in the Army Air Corps.
Mr. Heston has also served as head of the Screen Actors Guild and headed a group of entertainment figures who joined Martin Luther King's 1963 civil rights march on Washington.
While most of Mr. Heston's statement played on his long career in entertainment, he did tell his political fans that he is "confident about the future of America."
"I believe in you," he said. "I know that the future of our country, our culture, and our children is in good hands. I know you will continue to meet adversity with strength and resilience, as our ancestors did, and come through with flying colors, the ones on Old Glory."
Mr. Heston's announcement was a sad echo of the announcement by one of his political friends, former President Ronald Reagan. Mr. Reagan, 91, announced in 1994 that he had Alzheimer's disease. Mr. Reagan now lives out of the public eye in Los Angeles, reportedly barely able to recall his past or interact with friends and family.
"I applaud his going public with the information," Nancy Reagan said in a statement yesterday, according to the Associated Press. "Our family knows all too well the cruelty of this disease and we pray that God will give the Heston family, especially [his wife] Lydia the strength to face each day that lies ahead."
Mr. Heston has seen signs of problems for some time, Mr. Makris said, but he did not receive the fateful diagnosis, officially "a neurological condition consistent with Alzheimer's," until the past few days.
Doctors currently have no test to prove conclusively that a living patient has Alzheimer's disease, so they usually give a more general diagnosis, such as the one given to Mr. Heston. A conclusive diagnosis can be made only by an autopsy.
Mr. Heston "agonized" over the decision of whether and how to announce his condition, Mr. Makris said, but opted in the end not to appear in person before the press. He did not grant interviews yesterday, but Mr. Makris said Mr. Heston would make himself available over the next few weeks to talk about the disease.
It's not clear how far Mr. Heston's condition has progressed. He appeared lively and coherent throughout the taped statement, and Mr. Makris said the actor produced the tape "in one take."
There is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease and no agreement as to the precise cause.

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