Charlton Heston (1924-2008)

8th April 2008

Charlton Heston, the Moses of Hollywood, died on Saturday, 5 April. He was 84.

Charlton Heston, the Moses of Hollywood, died at his home in Beverly Hills, California on Saturday, 5 April. He was 84.

After an early career in theatre and on television, Heston's breakthrough role was as the ringmaster in Cecil B DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).

The film's success, and Heston's commanding performance, led to similarly grandiose roles in The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), El Cid (1961) and The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965).

In a career which spanned over four decades, Heston's other notable films included Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958) - in which he played a Mexican detective - and the dystopian sci-fi classics, Planet of the Apes (1968) and Soylent Green (1971).

In his later career, Heston lent his unmistakable presence to a series of cameo and voiceover roles, devoting much of his time to political activism.

Ironically, it was his position as president of the National Rife Association that led to one of Heston's last significant screen appearances, in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine (2002).

Heston stood down shortly after, announcing he was suffering from Alzheimers' disease. In a public statement, Heston said:

"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... I'll insist on work when I can; the doctors will insist on rest when I must. If you see a little less spring to 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."

One of Heston's finest late performances was as the Player King in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996). Although his on-screen time was comparatively brief, Heston effortlessly upstaged more established Shakespearean actors.

It was a reminder of his theatrical roots, and a suggestion, perhaps, of the true range of an actor best known for his larger-than-life performances.