Saturday, 250 or so of Charlton Heston's closest friends (and some of us very distant ones) gathered to say farewell to a great man at his home church in Pacific Palisades, CA. It was a remarkably bi-partisan affair: Nancy Reagan sat between Tom Selleck and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the second row directly behind Heston's wife Lydia, son Frasier and daughter Holly, while directors Rob Reiner and Oliver Stone brought up the rear. In between were other friends like Pat Boone, Keith Carradine, Wayne LaPierre, Olivia DeHavilland and others.
Frasier Heston gave a particularly poignant eulogy saying "he was the finest man I've ever known. He was the finest man I will ever know."
Then speaking directly to his Father, added: "You did your best; You kept your promises."
Heston's pastor gave the homily, noting that Heston had been a "faithful member of our flock," and, gesturing to the seat where he said Heston sat every Sunday, told the audience how difficult it had been for him to preach from Exodus chapter 3 with the man who had famously played Moses sitting there in front of him.
While all funerals are typically "religious," Heston's was especially so. There were a number of hymns and liturgical readings and at one point the celebrant personalized things, noting, "Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you our brother Charlton, who was reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Grant that his death may recall to us your victory over death, and be an occasion for us to renew our trust in your Father's love."
Each attendee was offered communion, or, if they preferred, a "blessing," and bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace," closed the service.
We reconvened at Heston's beloved home for home videos, a live band, food and pictures of the man of the hour. There we received a booklet which included a letter Chuck had written in February 1998 addressed simply "To whom this will inevitably concern." As usual he had the last word:
I hope my wife..will reject embalming. I've worn makeup all my life. I'd like to avoid it in death. I would prefer cremation, followed by a simple service.....a wake in our home with our friends would be nice, sharing some good wine and the more plausible 'memories of Chuck.' in the remote chance I might be hanging around in some sentient form, I'd enjoy that enormously....Closing remarks? Shakespeare was a master of both the elegiac and the wry; Here's Falstaff: 'Every man owes God a death. He that pays today is quit for tomorrow.' No, I can't pre-empt Shakespeare for my small departure. It's tacky. I'll quote Groucho Marx instead: "It happens to everybody. It's not such a big deal.