Hollywood star and gun lobbyist Charlton Heston dies

Charlton HestonLos Angeles  - Oscar-winning Hollywood star Charlton Heston died Saturday in his home in Beverly Hills. He was aged 84, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Heston, who won best actor Oscar for his starring role in the epic Ben Hur in 1959, died with his wife Lydia, whom he married in 1944, by his side.

Heston, who has become better known in recent years as a US gun lobbyist, also portrayed Michelangelo, El Cid and other heroic figures in movie epics of the 1950s and

He stepped down as president of US gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), in 2003, for reasons of ill-health.

In 2002, it was discovered that Heston was suffering from symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer's disease, according to the reports.

The ruggedly handsome actor was best known for roles such as the prophet Moses in Cecil B DeMille's 1956 Biblical extravaganza The Ten Commandments, raising a rod over his head as God miraculously parts the Red Sea.

Heston won the Academy Award for best actor in another religious epic, 1959's Ben-Hur, racing four white horses at top speed in the legendary 15-minute chariot race.

In August 2002, Heston made an emotional videotaped address announcing his illness.

Late in life, Heston's role as a gun lobbyist overshadowed his acting, and he became president of the National Rifle Association in 1998.

His stance earned him the ire of liberal Hollywood, but he was defiant. He answered his critics in a pose that mimicked Moses' parting of the Red Sea. But instead of a rod, Heston raised a flintlock over his head and challenged his detractors to pry the rifle "from my cold, dead hands."

Born John Charles Carter in Evanston, Illinois, he studied acting before serving for three years in the US air force. He went through hard times back in civialian life while awaiting his first break, according to the reports.

In 1952, after working on Broadway, Heston starred as the ringmaster in the movie The Greatest Show on Earth.

Four years later, came his signature role, Moses in The Ten Commandments.

After the success of the science fiction film Planet of the Apes in the late 1960s, he went on to work once more in theatre, the reports said.

He also found television success in glitzy 1980s shows Dynasty and The Colbys.

Although the came to be associated with conservative causes, in his earlier life he had been a supporter of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, according to the BBC.

In a statement, quoted by US media, his family said:

"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.

"In his own words,'I have lived such a wonderful life. I've lived enough for two people'."

Heston's family said a private memorial service would be held. (dpa)