Charlton Heston, who won an Oscar for his leading role in Ben-Hur, died Saturday. He was 84. On screen, Heston was best known as the star of religious and historic epics—he played Moses in The Ten Commandments. But off-screen he was an influential political activist, first as a proponent of civil rights in the 1960s, and more recently as an outspoken advocate of gun rights. (The Philadelphia Inquirer, free registration)
What the commentators said
“The death of Charlton Heston represents a great loss for American art,” said Scott Johnson in the Power Line blog. He “uniquely combined physical grace, a superb physique, that resonant voice,” and “a great actor's total commitment to the part” that gave him a “commanding presence” few actors can match. More importantly, “Charlton Heston was a great man and a life-long model of civic engagement, from his early days as a civil rights activist to his later championing of the Second Amendment.”
Many young people—liberal ones, at least—got only a partial glimpse of Heston, said Andy McSmith and Ciar Byrne in the London Independent. They never saw him march for civil rights and throw his celebrity might behind “other causes that required courage and conviction. There was even a time when he believed in gun control.” How strange that so many people knew him only for his time as president of the National Rifle Association, and as a “foolish old” reactionary they saw in “Michael Moore's polemic against American gun culture, Bowling for Columbine.”
Perhaps Heston’s fame will give the nation one last gift, said USA Today in an editorial. He announced in 2002 that he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, so maybe his death will “increase awareness of the disease and the urgency of finding a cure.” Heston was always a tough guy. “Hopefully, in his final, more private, chapter, he was able to endure the stripping-away of that towering presence as he planned, with both courage and surrender.”
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