Charlton Heston Is Legend! It’s A MAAAAADHOOOUUUSE!
Published at: April 6, 2008, 12:19 a.m. CST by Moriarty
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
I personally blame the damn dirty apes.
There were not many actors like Charlton Heston, and when you look at his film career, you see an outsized personality whose iconography only grows with the passage of time. Normally, I’m sure Harry would be rushing to share his affection for Cheston with you, but he’s suffered his own family loss this week, and I’m sure the last thing he wants to do is write an obituary right now.
I think the last great work I saw from him was in Kenneth Branagh’s HAMLET, where he appeared as the Player King. I know he worked after that, but that felt like a real summation of what made his screen presence so unique. He was bigger-than-life, hammy at times, in love with his own remarkable voice. And yet none of those were negatives when you’re describing him. He was one of those guys you can’t parody, because he managed to roast himself even while giving a totally serious performance. I always felt like he was in on the joke in the SF films that defined him in the ‘70s, like PLANET OF THE APES or SOYLENT GREEN or THE OMEGA MAN, and even if he did have a fascination with Heston-as-Jesus imagery for a while, those films work as both metaphor or message as well as pure entertainment, and a big part of that was the way Heston would chew on his roles like they were steak and he was starving.
It’s next to impossible to sum up his career in just a few lines, or just by referring to a few roles. He’s a guy who was in the business so long that he has different eras of work. I’m particularly fond of THE NAKED JUNGLE, SECRET OF THE INCAS (which all Indiana Jones fans owe it to themselves to track down), his MUSKETEERS films, the heartbreaking WILL PENNY, and especially TOUCH OF EVIL, where he’s woefully miscast as a Mexican, but still great. It was only recently that The Weinstein Company finally released EL CID on DVD, an epic that really stands the test of time. I prefer it to the much-better-known BEN-HUR, which may be the most iconic work that he ever did. It was his work in THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH that first launched him into stardom, but I think it was his work in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS that really defined him. He became known as “the epic guy,” and he showed up in sprawling productions like THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, THE AGONY & THE ECSTASY, and KHARTOUM. In the ‘70s, he made movies like AIRPORT 1975, EARTHQUAKE, and MIDWAY, but it’s the tense TWO-MINUTE WARNING that was my introduction to him, and I still have an inordinate fondness for that story of a cop caught in a cat-and-mouse game with a sniper in LA.
He was 84 years old when he passed away at home earlier today, and my impression is that he lived a full and rewarding life, involved in politics, president of the Screen Actors Guild for many years, an infamous advocate of the NRA, and actively engaged in humanitarian work. He was an Alzheimer’s sufferer for the last few years of his life.
I’ve just been reading various sources about Heston, and I didn’t realize his was a stage name. Even funnier, his real name was John Carter, and he changed it specifically because of the Edgar Rice Burroughs character. In a town that is openly suspicious of anyone who labels themselves a conservative, Heston was open about his affiliations, and I respect the hell out of him for that. As I’ve always said... I don’t have to agree with someone to like the way they conduct themselves, and Heston was a great example of that. He spoke from the heart, and he was passionate about the issues that were important to him.
The craziest thing I learned while reading about Heston tonight is that, allegedly, he was hired by the FBI during the Waco standoff to provide the voice of God when talking to David Koresh. They may not have ended up using him, but the fact that they went to him says a hell of a lot about the way he was regarded by film fans the world over.
Here’s the official statement his family released earlier today:
"To his loving friends, colleagues and fans, we appreciate your heartfelt prayers and support. 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. Indeed, he committed himself to every role with passion, and pursued every cause with unmatched enthusiasm and integrity.
We knew him as an adoring husband, a kind and devoted father, and a gentle grandfather, with an infectious sense of humor. He served these far greater roles with tremendous faith, courage and dignity. He loved deeply, and he was deeply loved.
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.’
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:
22212 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 300
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
He will be deeply missed by those who knew him personally and by those who loved his work.