Charlton Heston was born on October 4, 1923 in Evanston, Illinois to Lilla Charlton and Russell Whitford Carter. He was 10, when his parents divorced. Soon after that, his mother married Chester Heston. The new family moved to well-off Wilmette, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago, Illinois, where young Heston (his new name) attended New Trier High School. He enrolled in the school's drama program, where he performed with such outstanding results that he earned a drama scholarship to Northwestern University from the Winnetka Community Theater in which he was also active. While still in high school, he played in the silent 16-mm amateur film adaptation of "Peer Gynt" made by David Bradley. Several years later, the same team produced "Julius Caesar", in which Heston played Marc Antony.
In 1944, Heston left college and enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces. He served for two years as a B-25 radio operater/gunner stationed in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands with the Eleventh Air Force, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant.
While in the service, he married fellow Northwestern student Lydia Marie Clarke in 1944. After the war, the two lived in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, where they worked as models. Seeking a way to make it in theater, they decided to manage a playhouse in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1947, they went back to New York where Heston was offered a supporting role in the Broadway play "Antony and Cleopatra", starring the legendary Katherine Cornell, for which he earned acclaim. He also had success in television, playing a number of roles in CBS's Studio One, one of the most popular anthology dramas of the 1950's.
In 1950, he earned recognition for his appearance in his first professional movie, "Dark City". His breakthrough came in 1952 with his role of a circus manager in "The Greatest Show on Earth". But the muscular, 6'3", square jawed Heston became an icon by portraying Moses in "The Ten Commandments", a part he was chosen reportedly because director Cecil B. DeMille thought that he bore an uncanny resemblance to the statue of Moses by Michaelangelo. He has played leading roles in a number of fictional and historical epics—such as "Ben-Hur", "El Cid", "55 Days at Peking" and "Khartoum", during his long career. He once quipped, "They seem to think I have a Medieval face!" He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his 1959 performance in the title role of "Ben-Hur", one of a record-setting 11 earned by that film.
Heston also starred in various science fiction films and disaster movies, some of which, like |Planet of the Apes", "Soylent Green", "Earthquake" and "The Omega Man", which were hugely successful at the time of their release and have since become cult classics.
Heston fought at times for his artistic choices. In 1958, he maneuvered Universal International into allowing Orson Welles to direct him in "Touch of Evil", and in 1965 he fought the studio in support of Sam Peckinpah, when an attempt was made to interfere with his direction of "Major Dundee", despite the fact that Peckinpah was so temperamental that at one point the normally even-keeled Heston found himself threatening the diminuitive director with his cavalry sabre when he felt that Peckinpah was mistreating his cast. Heston was also president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1966 to 1971.
In 1971 he made his directorial debut with "Antony and Cleopatra", an adaptation of the William Shakespeare play that he had performed during his earlier theater career.
Starting with 1973's "The Three Musketeers", Heston began playing an increasing number of supporting roles and cameos. Despite this, his immense popularity has never died, and he has seen a steady stream of film and television roles ever since. He starred in the prime-time soap, "The Colbys" in 1985-1987, his only stint on television series. Heston has an instantly recognizable voice, and is often heard as a narrator. With his son Fraser, he starred in and produced several projects made for cable movies, including remakes of "Treasure Island" and "A Man For All Seasons". Heston received great reviews for his 1992 series on the A&E cable network, "Charlton Heston Presents The Bible", which has achieved great success on video and DVD.
Charlton was above all a 'family man'. He had been married for more than 50 years, to Lydia Clarke Heston. He had been father to Fraser and Holly and a grandfather too.
In August 2002, Charlton Heston publicly announced that he was diagnosed as suffering from symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. In July 2003, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, from President George W. Bush at the White House. In March 2005, various newspapers reported that family and friends of Heston were apparently shocked by the rapid progression of his illness. He died on April 5, 2008.