|Two characters that defined the career of Charlton Heston: Moses and Ben Hur|
Oscar-winning actor and leading gun lobbyist Charlton Heston has died at his home in Beverley Hills, California aged 84.
Heston won the prestigious film award in 1959 for his leading role in the epic chariot-racing Ben Hur, but also portrayed Moses, Michaelangelo, El Cid and many other heroic figures in a career spanning 50 years.
The actor was one of the first Hollywood actors to speak out about racism and was also president of the US gun lobby, the National Rifle Association.
In 2002 he revealed he was suffering from symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease.
His family released a statement saying he died on Saturday with his wife Lydia, whom he married in 1944, by his side: "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. 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."
The statement also quoted Heston himself: "I have lived such a wonderful life, I've lived enough for two people."
His family said a private memorial service would be held.
All American hero
Born John Charles Carter in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, in October 1923, Heston grew up in Michigan and studied acting before spending three years in the US Air Force.
|I have played three presidents, three saints and two geniuses in my career. If that doesn't create an ego problems, nothing does.|
Back in civilian life he had to wait three years for his first break in acting, starring as the ringmaster in the 1952 film The Greatest Show on Earth.
It was four years later that he appeared in one of the roles which defined his career: Moses in The Ten Commandments, with his own new-born son, Fraser, playing the baby Moses.
From there he went on to play a series of epic roles, including John the Baptist in The Greatest Story Ever Told, Michaelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy, and General Gordon in Khartoum.
In 1959 he won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Ben Hur, which won a total of 11 Academy awards, and for which he did most of his own stunts.
In the 1960s he starred in the science fiction hit Planet of the Apes and later futuristic hits like The Omega Man and Soylent Green, before he was associated with a series of 1970s disaster films such as Earthquake, Airport 1975 and Skyjacked.
|Heston was president of the National Rifle|
Association for five years
Off-screen in later life, Heston was a passionate supporter of the Republican party, but earlier had campaigned for the Democratic party and was a vocal supporter of Martin Luther King and one of the first actors to speak out about racism during the 1960s civil rights movement.
After King's assassination and the murder of Robert Kennedy, Heston called for controls on guns; he later said he was "misguided", and became president of the National Rifle Association.
He once vowed that the only way the government would take away his gun was from his "cold, dead hands".
He once summed up his belief in the second amendment of the US Constitution, which includes the right to bear arms as: "America's first freedom, the one that protects the others".
In 1998 after being elected to the post he posed for adverts holding a rifle and taunted then president Bill Clinton.
"America doesn't trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don't trust you with our guns," he jibed.
He was also president of the Screen Actors' Guild for six years, during which time he decried the trend of undermining traditional American heroes, and was chairman of the American Film Institute.
In 2003 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honour, by George Bush, the US president.
|That guy Heston has to watch it. If he's not careful, he'll get actors a good name.|
In August 2002 he issued a statement announcing that his doctors had diagnosed "a neurological disorder whose symptoms are consistent with Alzheimer's disease".
Eight months later he stepped down from the NRA, telling the membership his five years in office were "quite a ride ... I loved every minute of it".
Michael Levine, a publicist who represented Heston for almost 20 years, said the actor's death marked the end of an iconic era.
"If Hollywood had a Mount Rushmore, Heston's face would be on it," he said.
"He was a heroic figure that I don't think exists to the same degree in Hollywood today."