Charlton Heston passed away over the weekend, and this morning a few political bloggers tried to characterize his death as a victory for progressive politics. True, Heston was active on the conservative side for the last phase of his life, and true, as NRA President he said some very foolish things and took some pretty asinine positions. We’ve probably all seen Michael Moore’s excellent film Bowling For Columbine, which depicts Heston leading an NRA rally in Colorado in the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre, over the tearful protests of victims and parents. We’ve all heard Heston parrot the loony right-wing insistence that the solution to school shootings, to violence in general, is to arm as many people as possible. I don’t consider his tenure as head of the NRA his proudest moment, though many will disagree.
Many are taking this parting image of Heston and using it to speak for the whole of his life. Yes, he is the guy who raised the rifle over his head and declared that it would only be taken away “From [his] cold, dead hands.” He’s also the guy who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C., in 1963. He wasn’t the most progressive guy in the last decades of his life, but nor was he Jerry Falwell. His death is nothing to celebrate. For people like me, who love the movies, quite the opposite.
He starred in some great movies (the original Planet of the Apes, Touch of Evil) and some awful movies that were a lot of fun (The Omega Man, Soylent Green). He was never a great actor, but he could command the screen with an authority rarely found in actors today. He had one of the great voices in film, able to shout, able to growl, able to cry when he had to.
Even in his conservative twilight years, he wasn’t above kidding himself. Anyone else remember the “NRA Five-Day Loaner” sketch from when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 1993? Or his cameo as the Good Actor who gives Mike Myers directions to the church in Wayne’s World 2? Disagree with his politics all you want. I certainly did. But this was a good guy. We shouldn’t be throwing a party over his death. We should be saying thank you, and good-bye.