Oscar-winning actor Charlton Heston, whose chiseled features and commanding presence won him epic roles from Moses to Michelangelo, died last night at the age of 84, his family said.
Heston, a former president of the influential National Rifle Association lobbying group, died at his home in Beverly Hills with his wife Lydia at his side, the family said in a statement.
The actor, who won the 1959 best actor Oscar for the title role in Ben Hurin which he did many of his own chariot race stunts, had announced in 2002 that he was suffering symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
"To his loving friends, colleagues and fans, we appreciate your heartfelt prayers and support. Charlton Heston was seen by the world as larger than life," the family said.
"No one could ask for a fuller life than his. No man could have given more to his family, to his profession, and to his country. In his own words, 'I have lived such a wonderful life! I've lived enough for two people'," the statement added.
The family said a private memorial service would be held.
In his heyday, Heston's rugged features and conservative lifestyle seemed to belong to another age. As director Anthony Mann said: "Put a toga on him and he looks perfect." Frank Sinatra once joked: "That guy Heston has to watch it. If he's not careful, he'll get actors a good name."
Between super-spectacles ( The 10 Commandments, Ben Hur), science fiction movies ( Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green) and disaster epics ( Earthquake), Heston pushed for screen versions of Shakespearean plays, directing one, Anthony and Cleopatra.
Heston's most controversial role was not in a movie but as leader of the National Rifle Association, the gun-rights lobby group, from 1998 to 2003. He often stood at the podium at conventions, holding an antique flintlock rifle above his head and telling gun-control advocates they would not get his gun unless they could pry it "from my cold, dead hands."
Born John Charlton Carter (Heston was his stepfather's name) on October 4, 1923, in Evanston, Illinois, he made his theatrical debut as Santa Claus in a school play at age 5 and studied acting at Northwestern University.
After a World War Two stint as a gunner in the Army Air Corps, Heston headed to Broadway, where he briefly supported himself with nude modeling between acting jobs.
In 1944, he had married fellow Northwestern drama student Lydia Clarke and their marriage lasted 64 years until his death. They had two children, Fraser Clarke and Holly Ann, and three grandchildren Jack Alexander, Ridley and Charlie.