- The Washington Times - Monday, April 7, 2008

Charlton Heston was the exception.

For conservatives and patriots wary of Hollywood’s liberal agendas, the actor was reassurance that some cinematic idols were in touch with America’s traditional values. Larger than life and ruggedly handsome, Mr. Heston was an actor’s actor, his craft honed as bright and sharp as a sword edge.

He died late Saturday night after years of battling Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. He was 84.

His dedication to conservative causes, including leadership of the National Rifle Association (NRA) from 1998 to 2003, earned him a political profile in his later years that was as large as his acting stardom, playing such religious roles as Moses, John the Baptist and Ben-Hur.

Things changed in his life, Mr. Heston once said, “when I exchanged a set of stone tablets for a shotgun.”

He campaigned for his friend Ronald Reagan, wrote for National Review and publicly berated the Time Warner board over violent music.

One of the most famous images from late in his life came at an NRA convention, when he stood at a podium brandishing an antique rifle above his head and said gun-control advocates would have to pry it “from my cold, dead hands.”

The NRA’s current president, Wayne La Pierre, called him a “great patriot” yesterday — just one of the accolades that came in from conservatives, including President Bush, Nancy Reagan and John McCain.

Mr. Heston’s work spanned some 100 films over six decades. In addition to his religious characters in the 1950s and early ‘60s, he played such historic parts as El Cid, Michelangelo, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson in glorious Technicolor for a post-war nation eager for heroes.

Film historian David Thomson noted that he “had the gravitas to play God and God-like figures, which you don’t have among today’s actors.”

His ardent portrayal of Col. George Taylor in 1968’s “Planet of the Apes,” an astronaut discovering a humanity enslaved by apes, won him another string of roles in science-fiction and futuristic spectaculars and a new generation of fans for such films as “Soylent Green,” “The Omega Man” and “Earthquake.”

His legendary exclamations include: “It’s people!” and “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”

Civic duty

Mr. Heston served as six-term president of the Screen Actors Guild and chairman of the American Film Institute. Offended by racial discrimination, he accompanied Martin Luther King in the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights.

His appreciation of bedrock American values caused Mr. Heston, a B-25 gunner in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, to take on the culture wars, protesting the debasement of everyday families in popular culture and deriding political correctness.

Mirroring words from Mr. Reagan, Mr. Heston said it was a “change of heart” in the Democratic Party that prompted his newfound conservatism.

Mrs. Reagan said yesterday that she would “never forget Chuck as a hero on the big screen in the roles he played, but more importantly, I considered him a hero in life for the many times that he stepped up to support Ronnie in whatever he was doing.”

Mr. McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, also paid tribute yesterday, calling Mr. Heston “a real-life leader [who] served his country and proudly gave his voice in support of some of our most basic rights.”

Besides Mr. Reagan, Mr. Heston campaigned on behalf of both President Bush and his father.

“Charlton Heston was one of the most successful actors in movie history and a strong advocate for liberty,” the younger Mr. Bush said yesterday.

“Widely acclaimed for his long, award-winning film career, he also had a profound impact off the screen. He served his country during World War II, marched in the civil rights movement, led a labor union, and vigorously defended Americans” Second Amendment rights,” Mr. Bush said. “He was a man of character and integrity, with a big heart.”

Along with the Oscar for the title role in “Ben-Hur,” Mr. Heston also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003 and wrote five books.

Values fight

But his 1992 fight with Time Warner led to what Mr. Heston called “my most significant victory in the public sector since the civil rights marches.”

Because Mr. Heston owned stock in Time Warner, he could attend a stockholders meeting and read to the assembled board the lyrics from the Ice-T song “Cop Killer” — words that Mr. Heston later told a grateful Fox News host: “I can”t repeat them on television.”

“I shamed Time Warner, the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world, into firing Ice-T and dropping the album,” Mr. Heston told Fox, noting that the rap star had “threatened to kill me.”

He left Actors Equity over the union”s refusal to let a white actor play a Eurasian in “Miss Saigon,” calling it “obscenely racist.” He denounced CNN for its Baghdad-based reporting in the Persian Gulf War, saying the network was “sowing doubts” about the U.S.-led effort to reverse Saddam Hussein”s invasion of Kuwait. He said of President Clinton: “America doesn”t trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don”t trust you with our guns.”

Such devotion offended liberal firebrands, however. Filmmaker Michael Moore sprung what many considered an unfair on-camera interview on Mr. Heston at the actor”s home in the 2002 film “Bowling for Columbine.” Mr. Heston was starting to display neurological symptoms at the time.

Yesterday, some progressive bloggers offered less than flattering comments about Mr. Heston”s passing.

Warner Todd Huston, who monitors liberal media for the conservative watchdog Newsbusters, yesterday drew attention to the Daily Kos, citing dozens of contributors who called Mr. Heston a “gun nut” — that”s one of the printable epithets — shortly after his death was made public.

“Too often people confuse the politics with the man and the passion for the issues overwhelms civil behavior,” Mr. Huston said.

Blogger Ed Morrissey of Hot Air yesterday noted the irony of how “Hollywood turned its back on one of its biggest icons for the sin of becoming Republican and of supporting gun rights” while “it churned out more and more films dedicated to mass shootings and indiscriminate violence.”

Final role

Mr. Heston himself was a man of great, and often dramatic civility — with a definite sense of historic moment. In August 2002, he announced he had been diagnosed with symptoms “consistent” with Alzheimer”s disease.

“For an actor, there is no greater loss than the loss of his audience. I can part the Red Sea, but I can’t part with you, which is why I won’t exclude you from this stage in my life,” he said.

Mr. Heston was born Oct. 4, 1923, in Evanston, Ill. He is survived by Lydia, his wife of 64 years, son Fraser and daughter Holly, three grandchildren and other relatives.

A private memorial service will be held. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF, 22212 Ventura Blvd., Suite 300, Woodland Hills, CA 91364) or online at www.mptvfund.org.

His family offered a tribute yesterday.

“Charlton Heston 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,” they 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. In his own words, ‘I have lived such a wonderful life! I’ve lived enough for two people.’ ”

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