As I've written before, I felt lucky to have grown up at the end of an era where you could see classic cinema on a movie screen on a regular basis.
One of the crystalline silver screen memories I have as a boy was going to the Pembroke Mall Cinemas near my home in Virginia Beach, Va., where the screen went from the high ceiling to the floor and across the curved back wall. It was the place to see an epic, and I was in for one with Ben-Hur, the 1959 William Wyler classic of chariot races, amazing journeys, big emotions and Jesus Christ himself. At the center of it all was Charlton Heston, an actor who -- though I wasn't conscious of it at the time -- drew me in with an Oscar winning portrayal of a man wronged by his best friend who fights through the harshest of circumstances to regain his life and family and ultimately has a life-changing encounter. Prior to that afternoon, I had no idea a terrestrial tale could dazzle me as much as Star Wars, but Ben-Hur did it, and Heston was on my radar as a star to follow.
It was a trip over the years through more epics (El Cid), the bizarre (Soylent Green . . . is people!!!), great movies (Touch of Evil) and cheese whiz (Airport).
Heston's image has also undergone a transformation in the ensuing years. He went, in many circles, from being regarded as the great movie star that he was to a pariah and a punchline. Granted, he brought some of this on himself, primarily for his presidency of the National Riffle Association and outspoken advocacy for gun ownership rights, a divisive issue, no doubt. You have to accept when you make stands, some people will make a complete break with you and not be able to see anything but your politics, even when they are watching you in a great performance.
Give Heston credit: He stood up for something he believed in, just like he did in the 1960s, marching for civil rights. In this corner, we have never been against artists putting their names behind causes they believe in.
But let's not forget Heston's acting and his contributions to cinema. He was one of the 20th Century's great movie stars, and now that he's gone, he should definitely be remembered as such.