Charlton Heston

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As an actor, I'm thankful I have lived not one life, but many.

Charlton Heston (4 October 19245 April 2008), born John Charles Carter, was an American film actor known for his heroic roles and for his long involvement in political issues, including as a five-time president of the National Rifle Association.


I have lived my whole life on the stage and screen before you. I found purpose and meaning in your response.
  • Let me make a short, opening, blanket comment. There are no "good guns". There are no "bad guns". Any gun in the hands of a bad man is a bad thing. Any gun in the hands of a decent person is no threat to anybody — except bad people.
    • Interview on Meet the Press (May 18, 1997)
  • You do not define the First Amendment. It defines you. And it is bigger than you. That's how freedom works. It also demands you do your homework. Again and again, I hear gun owners say, how can we believe anything the anti-gun media says when they can't even get the facts right? For too long, you have swallowed manufactured statistics and fabricated technical support from anti-gun organizations that wouldn't know a semi-auto from a sharp stick. And it shows. You fall for it every time.
    • Speech to the National Press Club (September 14, 1997)
  • I simply cannot stand by and watch a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States come under attack from those who either can't understand it, don't like the sound of it, or find themselves too philosophically squeamish to see why it remains the first among equals: Because it is the right we turn to when all else fails. That's why the Second Amendment is America's first freedom.
    • Speech to the National Press Club (September 14, 1997)
  • Now, I doubt any of you would prefer a rolled up newspaper as a weapon against a dictator or a criminal intruder. Yet in essence, that is what you have asked our loved ones to do, through an ill-contrived and totally naive campaign against the Second Amendment.
    • Speech to the National Press Club (September 14, 1997)
  • You could say that the paparazzi and the tabloids are sort of the "assault weapons" of the First Amendment. They're ugly, a lot of people don't like them, but they're protected by the First Amendment — just as "assault weapons" are protected by the Second Amendment.
    • Interview Fox News Channel (September 15, 1997)
  • Telling us what to think has evolved into telling us what to say, so telling us what to do can't be far behind.
    Before you claim to be a champion of free thought, tell me: Why did political correctness originate on America's campuses? And why do you continue to tolerate it? Why do you, who're supposed to debate ideas, surrender to their suppression?
    Let's be honest. Who here thinks your professors can say what they really believe?
    It scares me to death and should scare you too, that the superstition of political correctness rules the halls of reason.
    You are the best and the brightest. You, here in the fertile cradle of American academia, here in the castle of learning on the Charles River, you are the cream. But I submit that you, and your counterparts across the land, are the most socially conformed and politically silenced generation since Concord Bridge. And as long as you validate that ... and abide it ... you are — by your grandfathers' standards — cowards.
  • Thank you all for coming and thank you for supporting your organization. I also want to applaud your courage in coming here today. Or course, you have a right to be here. As you know, we've cancelled the festivities, the fellowship we normally enjoy at our annual gatherings. This decision has perplexed a few and inconvenienced thousands. As your president, I apologize for that. But it's fitting and proper that we should do this. Because NRA members are, above all, Americans. That means that whatever our differences, we are respectful of one another and we stand united, especially in adversity.
    I have a message from the mayor, Mr. Wellington Webb, the mayor of Denver. He sent me this and said, "Don't come here. We don't want you here." I said to the mayor, well, my reply to the mayor is, I volunteered for the war they wanted me to attend when I was 18 years old. Since then, I've run small errands for my country, from Nigeria to Vietnam. I know many of you here in this room could say the same thing. But the mayor said "Don't come." I'm sorry for that. I'm sorry for the newspaper ads saying the same thing, "Don't come here." This is our country. As Americans, we're free to travel wherever we want in our broad land.
  • NRA members are in city hall, Fort Carson, NORAD, the Air Force Academy and the Olympic Training Center. And yes, NRA members are surely among the police and fire and SWAT team heroes who risked their lives to rescue the students at Columbine. "Don't come here"? We're already here. This community is our home. Every community in America is our home.
    • NRA annual meeting opening remarks, Denver, Colorado, 1999-05-01
    • Mayor Webb asked the NRA not to hold this meeting, which fell shortly after the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999.
    • In Bowling for Columbine, 2002 , this speech is edited to "Good Morning... Thank you all for coming, and thank you for supporting your organization. I also want to applaud your courage in coming here today... I have a message from the Mayor, Mr. Wellington Webb, the Mayor of Denver. He sent me this, and said "Don't come here. We don't want you here." I said to the mayor... This is our country, as Americans we're free to travel wherever we want in our broad land... "Don't come here"? We're already here."
  • Tragedy has been and will always be with us. Somewhere right now, evil people are planning evil things. All of us will do everything meaningful, everything we can do to prevent it, but each horrible act can’t become an axe for opportunists to cleave the very Bill of Rights that binds us. America must stop this predictable pattern of reaction. When an isolated terrible event occurs, our phones ring demanding that the NRA explain the inexplicable. Why us? Because their story needs a villain. ... That is not our role in American society and we will not be forced to play it. ... Now, if you disagree that's your right, I respect that, but we will not relinquish it, or be silenced about it, or be told "do not come here, you are unwelcome in your own land."
    • NRA annual meeting closing remarks, Denver, Colorado, 1999-05-01; referring to the complaints that some had that the NRA should not proceed to have its scheduled convention in Denver out of sensitivity to the fact that the Columbine shootings had occurred near the convention site; used on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (August 19, 2010) as reasoning why a proposed mosque near the site of the September 11th terrorist attacks must be allowed to be built.
  • I remember a decade ago at my first annual meeting in St. Louis. After my banquet remarks to a packed house, they presented me with a very special gift. It was a splendid hand-crafted musket.
    I admit I was overcome by the power of its simple symbolism. I looked at that musket and I thought of all of the lives given for that freedom. I thought of all of the lives saved with that freedom. It dawned on me that the doorway to all freedoms is framed by muskets.
    So I lifted that musket over my head for all to see. And as flashbulbs popped around the room, my heart and a few tears swelled up, and I uttered five unscripted words. When I did, that room exploded in sustained applause and hoots and shouts that seemed to last forever. ... So as we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those words again for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: From my cold dead hands!
    • Speech at NRA Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina (May 20, 2000)
    • referencing a slogan from a series of NRA bumper stickers, "I'll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands"

Los Angeles Times interview (1956)

"Moses Film Role Awes Portrayer" by Dan. L. Thrapp, in Los Angeles Times (October 28, 1956)
I always work on the theory that the audience will believe you best if you believe yourself.
  • I always work on the theory that the audience will believe you best if you believe yourself. This meant that I had to come to understand Moses well enough to believe in my portrayal of him.
  • To me Moses is all men grown to gigantic proportions.
    He was a man of immense ability, immense emotions, immense humanness and immense dedication. There is something of Moses in each of us — the more there is, the better we are.
    It is interesting to note that once Moses climbs Mt. Sinai and talks to God there is never contentment for him again. That is the way it is with us. Once we talk to God, once we get his commission to us for our lives we cannot be again content. We are happier. We are busier. But we are not content because then we have a mission — a commission, rather.
  • Moses is the keystone to every man's ethical code. He was the first man of record in history to conceive of the law as separate from the will of a ruler, to choose whether a man should live by grace of law, or law by grace of man. In a literal sense Moses lives at every council table today.

Interview in The Sunday Times (1990)

"Charlton Heston: Great sport with a line in heroic role models" by Jani Allan, in The Sunday Times (June 17, 1990)
  • It's fashionable for modern actors to talk about getting "inside" a character. But you can't get to the inside without getting the outside right first.
  • Celebrity is a corrosive condition for the soul. I have tried to restrain its inroads on me, but there are odd corners of my character that have been harmed.
  • I used to think if it wasn't possible to be a family man and a totally dedicated artist, I'd rather be the former. I'm an idealist and a romantic.
  • To be an actor you need four things: energy, concentration, a lot of luck and, of course, good roles.
  • I have played some of the great men in history and I believe in the great man who does heroic deeds, even in these egalitarian times.

Winning the Cultural War (1999)

  • “You simply disobey. Peaceably, yes. Respectfully, of course. Nonviolently, absolutely. But when told how to think or what to say or how to behave, we don’t. We disobey the social protocol that stifles and stigmatizes personal freedom.” 16 February 1999 [1]

Video farewell (2002)

Video taped message, announcing that he had symptoms of Alzheimer's disease (9 August 2002)
  • My dear friends, colleagues, and fans, my physicians have recently told me I may have a neurological disorder whose symptoms are consistent with Alzheimer's disease. So I wanted to prepare a few words for you now because when the time comes, I may not be able to.
  • I have lived my whole life on the stage and screen before you. I found purpose and meaning in your response. For an actor that is no greater loss than the loss of his audience. I can part the Red Sea, but I can't part with you, which is why I won't exclude you from this stage in my life.
    For now, I'm not changing anything. I will insist on work when I can; the doctors will insist on rest when I must. If you see a little less spring in my step, if your name fails to leap to my lips, you will know why. And if I tell you a funny story for the second time, please laugh anyway.
  • I'm neither giving up nor giving in. I believe I'm still the fighter that Dr. King and JFK and Ronald Reagan knew. But it's a fight I must someday call a draw. I must reconcile courage and surrender in equal measure.
  • I also want you to know I'm grateful beyond measure. My life has been blessed with good fortune. I'm grateful I was born in America, that cradle of freedom and opportunity where a kid from the Michigan North Woods can work hard and make something of his life. I'm grateful for the greatest words ever written, that let me share with you the infinite scope of the human experience.
    As an actor, I'm thankful I have lived not one life, but many.

Quotes about

  • It could be that today's conservative movement remains in thrall to the same narrative that has defined its attitude toward film and the arts for decades. Inspired by feelings of exclusion after Hollywood and the popular culture turned leftward in the '60s and '70s, this narrative has defined the film industry as an irredeemably liberal institution toward which conservatives can only act in opposition—never engagement. Ironically, this narrative ignores the actual history of Hollywood, in which conservatives had a strong presence from the industry's founding in the early 20th century up through the '40s, '50s and into the mid-'60s]. The conservative Hollywood community at that time included such leading directors as Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, and Cecil B. DeMille, and major stars like John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Charlton Heston. These talents often worked side by side with notable Hollywood liberals like directors Billy Wilder, William Wyler, and John Huston, and stars like Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Spencer Tracy. The richness of classic Hollywood cinema is widely regarded as a testament to the ability of these two communities to work together, regardless of political differences. As the younger, more left-leaning "New Hollywood" generation swept into the industry in the late '60s and '70s, this older group of Hollywood conservatives faded away, never to be replaced. Except for a brief period in the '80s when the Reagan Presidency led to a conservative reengagement with film—with popular stars like Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger making macho, patriotic action films—conservatives appeared to abandon popular culture altogether. In the wake of this retreat, conservative failure to engage with Hollywood now appears to have been recast by today's East Coast conservative establishment into a generalized opposition toward film and popular culture itself. In the early '90s, conservative film critic Michael Medved codified this oppositional feeling toward Hollywood in his best-selling book Hollywood vs. America.
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