Hollywood mourns one of its biggest stars on Saturday night — Oscar-winning actor Charlton Heston passed away at the age of 84. According to a spokesperson for the Heston family, the big-screen legend, perhaps most famous for his portrayal of Moses in The Ten Commandments, passed away in his Beverly Hills home with his wife, Lydia, by his side.
While no cause of death has been confirmed, Heston had been coping with Alzheimer’s disease for the better part of a decade.
Heston’s first big-screen starring role came in the 1950’s film noir, Dark City, and his fame quickly grew with star turns in The Greatest Show on Earth — the Best Picture winner for 1952 — and The Ten Commandments, which would forever cement the young actor as the go-to star for historic figures, including El Cid, Marc Antony, King Henry VII, John the Baptist and several others.
He would win his sole Oscar for the title role in the 1959 epic Ben Hur, a film that still holds, along with Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, the record for the most Oscars won — 11 — by a single film.
The actor’s bravura on-screen persona was matched only by his off-screen activism. In addition to serving as president of the Screen Actor’s Guild from 1966 to 1971 and as chairman of the American Film Institute (which named an award in his honor in 2003), Heston was also vocal during the civil rights movement, participating in the 1963 march on Washington, D.C.
However, in his later years the actor’s politics began to sway more and more toward the conservative as he became increasingly outspoken about his problems with new gun control laws enacted in the ’80s and ’90s. And in 1998, the National Rifle Association elected Heston as its president, a role he was taken to task for in the 2002 Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine.
Following the revelation of his medical condition, Heston stepped down from his position at the NRA in 2003 and was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom later that year by President George W. Bush.
Heston is survived by his wife of 64 years, Lydia, and their two children, Holly Heston Rochell and son Fraser Heston, who not only portrayed the infant Moses in The Ten Commandments but would later direct his father in the TV movie version of Treasure Island.