Heston, Charlton 1923-2008

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Heston, Charlton 1923-2008


Original name, John Charles Carter; born October 4, 1923, in Evanston, IL; died of unspecified causes after suffering from Alzheimer's disease, April 5, 2008, in Beverly Hills, CA. Actor. With a career spanning more than 60 years and 100 films, Heston will be remembered as much for his resonating voice and Olympian physique as for the activism that dominated much of his life. Born in a Chicago suburb, Heston moved with his parents to a small town in Michigan, where he learned to hunt, fish, and become self-reliant in the wild. After his parents' divorce and his mother's subsequent remarriage, Heston moved back to Illinois and enrolled at an upscale high school. Feeling shy and displaced, Heston found refuge in the drama department. In 1941 he won an acting scholarship to Northwestern University, where he distinguished himself performing in campus plays. Heston created his stage name by combining his mother's and stepfather's names, Lila Charlton and Chester Heston. In 1943 Heston left Northwestern and enlisted in the Air Force. He served as a radio-gunner in the Aleutians during World War II and was discharged in 1947. That same year, Heston moved to New York City, where he found work acting in various plays and on television in soap operas and live dramas. After being spotted in a television production of Wuthering Heights, Heston was offered the lead role in the 1950 movie Dark City. He was next cast as the circus manager in Cecil B. DeMille's film The Greatest Show on Earth, which won the Academy Award for best picture of 1952. A string of low-budget films followed until DeMille once again tapped Heston as his leading man, this time casting him as Moses in the biblical spectacular The Ten Commandments in 1956. Heston earned a Golden Globe Award nomination as best actor for his imposing performance. He then chose to work with director Orson Welles in the thriller Touch of Evil, starring opposite Janet Leigh and Marlene Dietrich. In 1956 Heston starred in another biblical epic, Ben-Hur, in a role that defined his acting career. Ben-Hur earned a record-setting 11 Academy Awards, including an Academy Award for best actor for Heston. He starred with Sophia Loren in El Cid in 1961 and with Laurence Olivier in Khartoum in 1966. Heston also lent his imposing talents to movies such as The Greatest Story Ever Told, The President's Lady, The Buccaneer, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Airport 1975, Planet of the Apes, several Westerns, and many more action films. Heston often returned to performing in the theatre and on television, especially as he grew older. He also believed strongly in political activism, marching for civil rights with Martin Luther King, Jr., serving as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1966 to 1971, and being appointed by President Ronald Reagan as cochairman of the President's Task Force on the Arts and Humanities. Heston often spoke passionately about what he viewed as the erosion and debasement of American culture and actively campaigned on behalf of Republican candidates. In 1998 he was elected president of the National Rifle Association, where he served an unprecedented four terms. In 1997 Heston was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, and in 2003 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. At the time of his death, Heston and his wife Lydia had been married 64 years.


Economist, April 10, 2008.

Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2008.

New York Times, April 6, 2008.

People, April 21, 2008.

London Times, April 7, 2008.