- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2003

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Charlton Heston was hailed as "a fearless patriot" and "a defender of personal freedoms" during a tribute last night marking the end of his tenure as president of the National Rifle Association.

NRA officials unveiled a 10-foot-tall statue of Mr. Heston modeled after the character he played in the 1968 movie "Will Penny." The statue, to be permanently displayed in the NRA's headquarters in suburban Washington, shows Mr. Heston with a pistol in his right hand.

Mr. Heston wiped tears from his eyes during the tribute.

He planned to step down as the public face of the nation's most visible gun-rights group on Monday at the NRA's annual convention. He will be succeeded by Kayne Robinson, the former chairman of the Iowa State Republican Party.

Mr. Heston, 78, who announced last year that he has symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease, appeared to have trouble walking on the stage. He didn't talk during the tribute and gripped the hand of his wife, Lydia.

In a taped speech shown to the tens of thousands of NRA members attending, Mr. Heston called his five years as NRA president "quite a ride."

Mr. Heston became president of the NRA in 1998, at a time when the 4 million-member group was at odds with the Clinton administration. He campaigned vigorously for George W. Bush in 2000 and for Republican candidates in 22 states last year.

"Thank you for everything you've given us and thank you for everything you've kept from being taken away from us," said Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president.

Mr. Heston's most famous sound bite as NRA president came when he raised a rifle above his head and said, "From my cold, dead hands."

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