Return to Transcripts main page

Breaking News

Charlton Heston Makes Statement About Alzheimer's

Aired August 09, 2002 - 13:34   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you a press conference that is about to get under way right there, and it's about Charlton Heston. It seems as though he is about to walk right up to the plate.
Well, let's -- let's now show a -- not that live picture. But we have got some videotape for you.


CHARLTON HESTON: 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 have lived my whole life on the stage and screen before you. I found purpose and meaning in your response. For an actor that 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.

For now, I'm not changing anything. I will 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 will 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.

But 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 I'm grateful beyond measure. My life has been blessed with good fortune. I'm grateful I was born in America, that cradle of freedom and opportunity where a kid from the Michigan North Woods can work hard and make something of his life. I'm grateful for the greatest words ever written, that let me share with you the infinite scope of the human experience.

As an actor, I'm thankful I have lived not one life, but many.

Above all, I'm proud of my family. My wife, Lydia, the queen of my heart; my children, Fraizer (ph) and Holly (ph); and my beloved grandchildren, Jack (ph), Ridley (ph), and Charlie (ph). They are 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, Ye 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, every one.

We'll have printed copies of the statement for all that need them when you leave. They are signed individually by Mr. Heston. It's an original signature, and you should keep it. We will also have BETA video copies for the broadcast media and VHS copies for the print media so you can have the statement in its entirety.

Mr. Heston chose this venue to make this announcement because he views you as his hometown press. You have covered his career for more than 50 years, and he thinks that by and large that coverage has been fair and equitable. He chose this method of communication, after agonizing for a few days, because he wanted to make what was a very serious statement as clearly, concisely and comprehensively as possible. He hopes that you will indulge him just this one time.

I will be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Did he consider...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he did. Yes, he did. It's a serious subject. He wanted to get it all out there. He wanted to be as honest as he could be.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you will look into the disease, that's basically the way they discuss it.

QUESTION: When did he tape this statement?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a few days ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I think he said specifically he's not going to change anything. He's got a very ambitious campaign schedule this fall. Those that cover politics will see him, and he will be available to you. He's got a movie he is working on. He's got a number of appearances scheduled. So, no he's not. He's just basically, I think, once again, being very honest. I mean, here's what I'm dealing with. I'm going to do this the best I can. And...

QUESTION: He is shooting a movie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's working. It's in discussion.

Preproduction, yes.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not at this time. There will be other people that can get that for you.


QUESTION: Is he going to become a spokesperson for Alzheimer's now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he just did.

QUESTION: When did he actually find out he had symptoms?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just in the last few days. There have been -- you know, it as process you go through, but a definite answer was just fairly recently.

QUESTION: Why did he choose not to be here today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he thought that -- it's a very sober subject for him. I mean, Mr. Heston and his family have been through a very troubling time in the past few days and weeks. He wanted to get it all out and say, here is what I want to say to you, and he didn't know this would be the right format. He struggled with it.

Excuse me?

Well, you know, you have been -- I don't have to elaborate. You can speculate yourself. You have been told you have a serious disease, one that's incurable. You have to deal with that. It's one of life's problems. But he's coming through, I think, after having watched him for a long time, with a lot of class courage and conviction, and I think he's going to be fine.

He'll be 79, October 4th.

QUESTION: How far advanced is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not a medical person. It's early stages.

QUESTION: Have you seen symptoms yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I haven't really, no.

QUESTION: Has he changed in ways that people notice?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it hasn't. It hasn't yet. I think he's still -- I mean, he is soon to be 79 years old. I notice a difference in myself in the last 20 years, so there are some changes, I'm sure.

WHITFIELD: These statements now coming from Tony Macross (ph). He's sort of a spokesperson for Charlton Heston, who just moments ago. you saw here live on CNN, in a taped statement that he announced that he is stepping down as president of the National Rifle Association, primarily because he is already experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer's.

Let's listen in one more time now to a short statement from Charlton Heston.


HESTON: 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 found purpose and meaning in your response. 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.


WHITFIELD: Charlton Heston, best known for his role as Moses, and he is also most recently been best known as playing the role of president of the National Rifle Association, now saying that he has to be honest with himself, and he wants to be honest with the public, that he is feeling symptoms, or that are consistent with Alzheimer's.

What does that really mean to try to understand? What kind of symptoms would be consistent with Alzheimer's at this stage?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's important to point out, that there isn't a specific blood test or something like that for Alzheimer's. Typically, the way the diagnosis is made, is based the symptoms. I thought, Mr. Heston, he noticed a decreased spring in his step, forgetting people's names, telling the same joke twice. Those are some of the things that he noticed.

But certainly, it's oftentimes more than just lapses in memory, which do seem to affect people with age. These are more significant problems, problems with remembering very familiar things, problems with memory certainly, problems just doing things of daily life. And while the spokesperson there said this that they didn't notice any of that sort of thing, that's probably something the doctors have been noticing. Alzheimer's a very common thing. They say 10 percent of people over age 65 will have it, and if you live over 85, half the people will get it. So it's certainly a disease of old age. Mr. Heston, is 79 this year. So getting up there.

WHITFIELD: I will correct myself. He has not announced that he is actually stepping down from president of the NRA. He is still apparently going to be working, according to a spokesperson, who said that he's also going to be working in the capacity as an actor, so he does still feel very confident about his abilities to keep being as normal or live a normal life that Charlton Heston knows.

GUPTA: Right, and it's amazing. They talk about his active campaign schedule, certainly with this fall working on the movie as well.

One thing I will say, is that a lot of doctors, I'm sure his doctors as well, would suggest maybe toning down a little bit in term of the activity and probably getting more rest, since that seems to be something that helps to decrease some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's. There are medications out there to help stave off symptoms as well, but there really is no cure, Fredricka, for Alzheimer's.

WHITFIELD: And this is pretty important. He is acting in a sense as a spokesperson now for Alzheimer's by coming out so publicly. So he is also making a very clear statement that you have to recognize yourself when things are not quite right, and perhaps it's important to share it with all the people closest to you now. In his case, the world is close to him. Everyone feels like they know Charlton Heston. So often, a person experiencing their first signs of Alzheimer's is unable or unwilling to do something like that, admit it to themselves and everyone else.

GUPTA: You're absolutely right, recognizing those symptoms early, not only by the person, but by family members, very, very important. Seems someone like Charlton Heston, certainly playing Moses, splitting the Red Sea, developing Alzheimer's. It can happen to anybody. It's something that's associated with older age, but it is important to make the diagnosis early, because while there is no cure, there are good medications that can stave off some of the symptoms.

People with Alzheimer's can live on average eight years after the diagnosis is made, but can live up to 20, 25 years after the diagnosis is made if good medical treatment is given, if people recognize the symptoms and if medications that are appropriate are delivered.

WHITFIELD: It is so difficult for a lot of family members, too. Once everyone does realize or come to terms that a member of their family is struggling with Alzheimer's, it's how to get the right kind of treatment, so that they can somehow preserve the relationship they have with this person, family member, at the same time recognize that, you know, they just are not going to be the same for a long time, if ever, return to any kind of normalcy, as they know it. GUPTA: I will tell you, because it is such a significant neurological disorder and because so many Baby Boomers are certainly getting older and more at risk for Alzheimer's, there has been a lot of research focused on this area, literally billions of dollars focus owned this. There are genes associated with Alzheimer's. You know, while there is not a cure, people are starting to get close are and closer to figuring out what causes it, and that may be a step in the right direction of figuring out how to treat it and cure it.

Not there yet, but all those things are absolutely right, people have to recognize and diagnose it early and get it treated.

WHITFIELD: What do most family members out there, you know, who are paying attention to this and watching Charlton Heston come to terms with his, you know, medical health right now, what do family members, or what kind of responsibility do family members have to have to help their family member who just may be showing symptoms get help, to come to terms with it themselves, to find the right kind of treatment, or perhaps even living arrangements.

GUPTA: Yes, you know, one thing that's important, that spokesperson made a comment that even over the last 20 years, he's had difficulty remembering things, that I have difficulty remembering, you have difficulty remembering. As you get older, people have difficulty remembering things, but Alzheimer's is a different problem, and it's important to distinguish that, basically the message being that the family members, that if an elderly person, or person you suspected may be having Alzheimer's is just having difficulty remembering, but more significant than that, they are not able to do familiar things, they are having difficulty dressing themselves, they are having difficulty feeding themselves, they don't seem as easily acquainted with things, with once they were once familiar. Those are significant signs, or could be early signs of Alzheimer's.

There isn't a cure, but it is important to get it diagnosed, because there are medications that could possibly help that, and if the medications are given early, that could help stave off some of those symptoms.

WHITFIELD: All right, thank you very much, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

GUPTA: Thank you.