Charlton Heston, one of the last lions of Old Hollywood, was remembered at his funeral Saturday as devoutly religious and patriotic — a man who was an imposing figure both in his politics and on the big screen.
Heston died April 5 at age 84 in his Beverly Hills home with his wife, Lydia, at his side following a battle with Alzheimer's disease. The service was held at the Episcopal Parish of St. Matthews, a church in a wooded canyon above Pacific Palisades.
"Charlton sat every Sunday morning right there," said Rev. Michael Scott Seiler, pointing to a front pew in the modernist wooden church shaped with seats arranged in a half moon.
About 250 people attended the funeral, including family members, politicians and actors.
A frail Nancy Reagan entered the church on the arm of Tom Selleck. Following the nearly two-hour ceremony, Reagan left with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Other notables from Heston's Hollywood history included Olivia DeHavilland, Keith Carradine, Pat Boone, Oliver Stone and Rob Reiner.
The first part of the ceremony was devoted to memories of Heston. His daughter, Holly Heston Rochell, recalled her father's love of poetry and recited the words of Shakespeare and Tennyson. Her brother, Fraser Clarke Heston, reminisced about his father's prowess on his tennis court, where he played every Sunday with friends.
He talked about his father's devotion to America and said he "loved his country."
"I never knew a finer man; I will never know a finer man," he said.
Heston was one of the biggest box-office draws of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, often playing legendary leaders or ordinary men thrown into heroic struggles. Some of his notable roles included Marc Antony in "Julius Caesar" and "Antony and Cleopatra"; Michelangelo in "The Agony and the Ecstasy"; John the Baptist in "The Greatest Story Ever Told"; and an astronaut on a topsy-turvy world where simians rule in "Planet of the Apes."
In recent years, Heston became better known for his conservative politics and position on gun rights as head of the National Rifle Association. Heston also campaigned for Republican presidential and congressional candidates and against affirmative action.
Near the end of his five-year tenure as NRA president in 2002, Heston disclosed he had symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease. Heston told his fellow NRA members when he stepped down that his time in office was "quite a ride. ... I loved every minute of it."
Heston was born Charles Carter in a Chicago suburb on Oct. 4, 1923. He grew up in the Michigan wilderness and after serving in the Army during World War II began acting.
After acting in two independent films by a college classmate, Heston was put under contract by producer Hal B. Wallis ("Casablanca"). He was later cast as the circus manager in "The Greatest Show on Earth" and then as Moses in "The Ten Commandments."
Heston followed with several other films before "Ben-Hur" elevated him to the top of Hollywood's A-list.
Michael Levine, who was Heston's publicist for 20 years and attended the service, said he was struck by how many people attended from both sides of the political aisle. He attributed this to Heston's "virtue and character."
"It was a beautiful service," he said.