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The race ends for Ben Hur

world Updated: Apr 07, 2008 12:22 IST
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Iconic Hollywood actor Charlton Heston, best known for his portrayal of a larger-than-life figure in the 1959 Oscar-winning film Ben Hur, died at the age of 84.

He was at his Beverly Hills home, with his wife of 64 years, Lydia, by his side.

The superstar, who was believed to be suffering from late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, is survived by a son, a daughter and three grandchildren.

Heston rose to fame in the 1950s with movies like Ben Hur, for which he won an Oscar. The film itself won 11 Academy Awards.

The role went to him after Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster and Rock Hudson turned down the film. He rehearsed for two months for the chariot race scene.

His other hits include The Ten Commandments, El Cid, 55 Days at Peking, Planet of the Apes and Earthquake.

With his large, muscular build, well-boned face and sonorous voice, Heston proved the ideal star during the period when Hollywood was filling movie screens with panoramas depicting the religious and historical past. “I have a face that belongs in another century,” he often remarked.

Heston’s last acting assignment was playing an elderly Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz Nazi surgeon who performed medical experiments on concentration camp refugees during World War Two, in the 2003 movie My Father, Rua Alguem 5555.

Heston wrote several books including The Actor's Life: Journals 1956-76 and In the Arena: An Autobiography.

Known for his political activism, Heston was a high-profile supporter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and was president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) from 1998 to 2002. He stepped down as NRA president in 2003 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, later the same year.

“Charlton Heston was seen by the world as larger than life. He was known for his chiselled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice, and, of course, for the roles he played,” his family said in a statement. “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.”