In Memory of Charlton Heston, Alzheimer's Sufferer
I remember hearing Charlton Heston's booming voice in "Planet of the Apes" as a young girl. I didn't watch the classic movies he made - "Ben Hur" or "The 10 Commandments" - until later. And there are still some movies that are sitting in my online Netflix queue, waiting to arrive at my home.
The news reports that followed Heston's death fleshed out the person who had that memorable baritone voice. I find that like most people, I agreed with some of his stands on political issues, but opposed other issues that he supported.
But I think the most important issue he took a stand on happened on August 9, 2002 when he announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Thanks to CNN's archives, I was able to find the transcript of the tape Heston made to announce his disease. Reading this, I found it very touching, and wanted to share it with you:
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. So... I wanted to prepare a few words for you now, because when the time comes, I may not be able to.
I've lived my whole life on the stage and screen before you. I've found purpose and meaning in your response. For an actor there's no greater loss than the loss of his audience. I can part the Red Sea, but I can't part with you, which is why I won't exclude you from this stage in my life.
For now, I'm not changing anything. I'll insist on work when I can; the doctors will insist on rest when I must. If you see a little less spring in my step, if your name fails to leap to my lips, you'll know why. And if I tell you a funny story for the second time, please laugh anyway.
I'm neither giving up nor giving in. I believe I'm still the fighter that Dr. King and JFK and Ronald Reagan knew, but it's a fight I must someday call a draw. I must reconcile courage and surrender in equal measure. Please feel no sympathy for me. I don't. I just may be a little less accessible to you, despite my wishes.
I also want you to know that I'm grateful beyond measure. 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 Northwoods can work hard and make something of his life. I'm grateful for the gift of the greatest words ever written, that 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.
Above all, I'm proud of my family ... my wife Lydia, the queen of my heart, my children, Fraser and Holly, and my beloved grandchildren, Jack, Ridley and Charlie. They're my biggest fans, my toughest critics and my proudest achievement. Through them, I can touch immortality.
Finally, I'm confident about the future of America. I believe in you. I know that the future of our country, our culture and our children is in good hands. I know you will continue to meet adversity with strength and resilience, as our ancestors did, and come through with flying colors -- the ones on Old Glory.
William Shakespeare, at the end of his career, wrote his farewell through the words of Prospero, in "The Tempest." It ends like this:
Be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Thank you, and God bless you, everyone.
Thank you, Charlton Heston, for your braveness in bringing your diagnosis of Alzheimer's to the public. May you rest in peace.