August 09, 2002 01:50 AM

Academy Award winner Charlton Heston, best known for playing larger-than-life figures such as Moses and Ben-Hur, is suffering from symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, the actor said in a prepared, videotaped message at a televised news conference in Beverly Hills on Friday. Heston, 77, who won a Best Actor Oscar for “Ben-Hur” in 1959, said he is going public with his illness now “because when the time comes I might not be able to,” reports the Associated Press in a transcript of Heston’s message. He added: “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, which is why I won’t exclude you from this stage in my life.” He will continue working for long as his health permits, staying on as president of the National Rifle Association and continuing to discuss movie prospects, his spokesman told reporters, according to AP. Heston, who played Moses in 1956’s “The Ten Commandments” and starred in such signature films as 1965’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (as Michelangelo) and 1968’s “Planet of the Apes” (as astronaut George Taylor), said of his condition: “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.”

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