"He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left."
Matthew 25:33

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Charlton Heston's legacy

When Charlton Heston died, not only did Hollywood lose an icon, the world witnessed the passing away of a man worthy of respect outside of his acting credentials. With the exception of a few extreme loon bloggers, the much-deserved tributes poured in.

Heston will be remembered by many for his legendary performances. A rule at my uncle’s house every year around Easter is, “Thou shalt watch 'The Ten Commandments.'" The fact this Cecil B. DeMille-directed movie still plays on television on a regular basis more than 50 years after its release is a testament to Heston’s powerful on-screen presence and staying power. DeMille reportedly chose Heston for the role because he thought the muscular, six-foot, three-inch, granite-jawed actor bore an uncanny resemblance to Michelangelo's famous statue of Moses.

Heston’s most celebrated movie roles were Biblical epics. Mr. Heston played John the Baptist in 1965's “The Greatest Story Ever Told." The 1959 movie “Ben-Hur” earned him an Oscar for best actor.

Not only did the actor leave us with memorable performances from “The Ten Commandments," “Ben-Hur” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told," but who can forget the classic lines from "Soylent Green" (“Soylent Green is people!”) and “The Planet of the Apes” ("Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!").

Heston was a passionate man. Passionate about his acting and the causes he believed in. He campaigned for presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson and JFK. In later years, for Ronald Reagan and both Bush presidents. He accompanied Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1963 civil rights march in Washington, D.C. He served as president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) from 1998-2003. He resigned in 2003 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

He also leaves a legacy as a fiery orator. In a 1997 speech, he denounced a culture war he said was being conducted by a generation of media, educators, entertainers and politicians against:"

... the God-fearing, law-abiding, Caucasian, middle-class, Protestant - or, even worse, evangelical Christian, Midwestern or Southern - or, even worse, rural, apparently straight - or, even worse, admitted heterosexuals, gun-owning - o,r even worse, NRA-card carrying, average working stiff - or, even worse, male working stiff - because not only don’t you count, you are a down-right obstacle to social progress. Your voice deserves a lower decibel level, your opinion is less enlightened, your media access is insignificant and, frankly, mister, you need to wake up, wise up, and learn a little something from your new America and, until you do, would you mind shutting up?” (Excerpt taken from his autobiography "In the Arena"). Strong stuff. Chuck Heston was not known for mincing words.

Despite his association with the high-profile and much-maligned (and misunderstood) NRA, Charlton Heston was much loved by anyone who met him in person for being kind, generous, polite and gracious. Reading through many columns and comments following his death, I found the writers, even those who disagreed with his politics, reaffirmed what his friends, family and acquaintances attested to. He had a genuine caring and respect for his fellow man. That’s a legacy worth more than a hundred Oscars.

This story is from the Sioux City Journal. Michael McNeil is a free-lance writer from Dakota City, Neb. You can write to him in care of the Journal or at lvrcomments@hotmail.com.

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