Remembering ‘The Ten Commandments’ and ‘Ben-Hur’ Star Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston The Omega Man
Courtesy Everett Collection

He could deliver the lines “Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let my people go!’” and “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” with equal gravitas.

Oscar-winning actor Charlton Heston passed away 15 years ago on April 5, 2008, at age 84.

With an acting career spanning more than 100 films over 60 years, Heston could personify great historical figures in some of Hollywood’s biggest epics. He could also play the lone intelligent human on a planet ruled by apes.

Born John Charles Carter in 1923 in northeastern Illinois, Heston served in World War II, and married actress and photographer Lydia Clarke.

He performed on the stage and in television in the late 1940s, but it wasn’t until filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille cast him in 1952’s Oscar-winning The Greatest Show on Earth that he got his big-screen breakthrough.

Heston starred in Westerns and action/adventure films in the 1950s, until giving one of his signature performances as Moses in DeMille’s 1956 biblical epic The Ten Commandments. Three years later, he’d win a Best Actor Oscar for his starring role in William Wyler’s Ben-Hur.

Heston was bankable for epics and Westerns in the 1960s, but his career took an unusual turn toward sci-fi with his starring role in 1968’s Planet of the Apes. The 1970s saw him star in futuristic dramas like The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973), as well as disaster movies like Skyjacked (1972) and Earthquake (1974).

In the 1980s, Heston had a starring primetime TV role in Dynasty spinoff The Colbys. From then on, much of his film work was in smaller roles and cameo appearances in movies like Wayne’s World 2 (1993), True Lies (1994) and Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001).

Heston was also known for his social and political activism. He supported the civil rights movement and joined Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1963 march on Washington. He became more involved in conservative politics in the 1970s, serving as president of the National Rifle Association from 1998-2003 and becoming its most visible spokesperson.

In 2002, Heston announced that he had been diagnosed with symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.

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March 2020

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