Charlton Heston was an American actor in film, theatre and television and a political activist.
As a Hollywood star he appeared in 100 films over the course of 60 years. He is best known for his roles in The Ten Commandments; Ben-Hur, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor; El Cid; and Planet of the Apes. He also is well known for his roles in the films The Greatest Show on Earth and Touch of Evil. His most memorable scenes were as Moses parting the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments and winning a spectacular chariot duel in Ben Hur. The starring roles gave the actor a grave, authoritative persona and embodied responsibility, individualism and masculinity; he rejected scripts that did not emphasize those virtues. His media image as a spokesman for Judeo-Christian moral values enabled his political voice.
Heston's political activism had four stages. In the first stage, 1955-61, he endorsed the Democratic candidates for president, and signed onto petitions and liberal political causes. From 1961 to 1972, the second stage, he continued to endorse Democratic candidates for president. In 1965-71, he served as the elected president of the Screen Actors Guild, and clashed with his liberal rival Ed Asner. Moving beyond Hollywood, he became nationally visible in 1963 in support of the Civil Rights bill, and in 1968 used his "cowboy" persona to publicize gun control measures. The third stage began in 1972. Like many neoconservatives of the same era who moved from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican, he rejected the liberalism of George McGovern and supported Richard Nixon in 1972 for President. In the 1980s, he gave strong support to his friend Ronald Reagan in his conservative presidency. In 1995, Heston entered his fourth stage by establishing his own political action fund fund-raising committee, and jumped into the internal politics of the National Rifle Association. He gave numerous culture wars speeches and interviews upholding the conservative position, blaming media and academe for imposing multiculturalism. His most famous role came as the five-term president of the National Rifle Association, as he traveled the country, giving speeches and interviews that supported gun rights. He implied he would die for his Second Amendment rights, rousing his audiences with his signature line, holding a rifle above his head and pledging that he would never surrender it — they would have to pry it from "my cold dead hands."