BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Hollywood legend Charlton Heston revealed he has symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease, Friday.
The icon, whose career spans seven decades said, "I'm neither giving up nor giving in," in a taped statement played at a news conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
"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," the 78-year-old actor said.
Heston, who won a best-actor Oscar for Ben Hur in 1959, has appeared in dozens of films, including The Ten Commandments, El Cid, and Planet of the Apes. He also had an uncredited cameo in Tim Burton’s recent remake of Planet of the Apes starring Mark Wahlberg.
"I worked my whole life on the stage and screen before you," he said referring to the movie audiences. "I found purpose and meaning in your response. For an actor, there is no greater loss than the loss of his audience.
"I can part the Red Sea, but I can't part with you," Heston said poignantly referring to one of his most famous movie moments.
In recent years, Heston's most prominent role has been president of the National Rifle Association. He will serve out his term at the association, which expires next April.
In an interview with Fox News, NRA executive Wayne LaPierre said he expected Heston to remain active in the gun rights community.
"He'll continue to be an inspirational leader and he'll continue to be a motivational leader to the association and to the country," LaPierre said.
And LaPierre emphasized his admiration for Heston. "He is a man deeply loved by all of America for his life in general and we (at the NRA) feel the same way," LaPierre said. "I've known him for 20 years and he's a good guy. He never got into all that Hollywood fluff out there, and culture. He's just a normal good guy."
Heston's recorded statement was reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's "sunset of my life" letter in which he revealed to the American public that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
"For now, I'm not changing anything. I'll insist on work when I can. The doctors will insist on rest when I must," he said. "If you leave a little less spring in my step, if your name fails to leap to my lips, you'll know why. And if I tell a funny story for the second time, please laugh anyway."
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan said Heston is an old friend and she is sad to learn of his diagnosis.
"I applaud his going public with the information," Nancy Reagan said in a written statement Friday. "Our family knows all too well the cruelty of this disease and we pray that God will give the Heston family, especially Lydia ... the strength to face each day that lies ahead."
Heston said he is "still the fighter that Dr. King and JFK and Ronald Reagan knew."
"But it's a fight I must someday call a draw," he said. "I must reconcile courage and surrender in equal measure. But please, feel no sympathy for me. I don't."
Heston who famously patriotic said, "My life has been blessed with good fortune. I'm grateful that 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."
The actor appears to be at an early stage of the disease, but it is difficult to know for sure based on the taped statement, said Dr. Gary Small, director of the University of California, Los Angeles, Center on Aging and an expert on Alzheimer's disease.
"Certainly someone who can speak in comprehensible sentences is going to be at a milder stage of the disease, rather than at the end stage of Alzheimer's, where people can't even speak," Small said.
The early detection of Alzheimer's generally leads to better treatment and management of the disease, he said.
Heston's spokesman, Tony Makris, said the actor decided to make a taped statement instead of a live appearance because he wanted to be deliberate with his words.
"It's a serious subject. He wanted to get it all out there. He wanted to be as honest as he can be," Makris said.
Born Charles Carter in a Chicago suburb, Heston grew up in Michigan.
Calling himself Charlton Heston from his mother's maiden name and his stepfather's last name, he won an acting scholarship to Northwestern University in 1941.
In 1943, he enlisted in the Army Air Force and served as a radio-gunner in the Aleutians. A year later he married another Northwestern drama student, Lydia Clarke.
After his army discharge in 1947, the couple moved to New York to seek acting jobs. Heston earned star billing from his first Hollywood movie, Dark City, a 1950 film noir. Cecil B. DeMille next cast him as the circus manager in the all-star The Greatest Show On Earth, named by the Motion Picture Academy as the best picture of 1952.
"I am grateful for the gift of the greatest words ever written to let me share with you the infinite scope of the human experience. As an actor, I'm thankful that I've lived, not one life, but many," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.