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Charlton Heston and his wife attend the 1972 Republican Convention

Charlton Heston and his wife, Lydia Clarke, attend the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. — JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis

Charlton Heston

The solemn presence, the sculpted physique, the shoulders that could bear the weight of portraying Michelangelo and Moses: these were among the assets that Heston brought to his big-screen roles in his heyday. But an underrated strength was Heston's growl, as when his previously mute astronaut shocks his simian tormentors in the first Planet of the Apes movie with his guttural demand: "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!"

Three decades later, as president of the National Rifle Association, Heston used that same growl to help immortalize his cri de coeur: Gun-control advocates, he insisted, would pry his rifle only "from my cold, dead hands."

Heston actually showed more flexibility in his political persuasions. He began as a New Deal liberal, and he helped to organize Hollywood's participation in Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington. But Heston found Barry Goldwater's message in 1964 attractive and soon crossed over to become Hollywood's most engaged conservative — the one most likely to duel with liberals.

During the 1980s, Heston served as President Reagan's most energetic defender in the film community; he slugged through a bitter long-term public battle with Ed Asner, who was using his platform as Screen Actors Guild president to assail Reagan, his distant predecessor in the job.

From the nuclear freeze (about which he once debated Paul Newman on ABC) to gun control, Heston was a theatrical and effective, if occasionally ponderous, advocate for conservative causes.

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