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Heston bids farewell to rifle club

Charlton Heston and wife Lydia at NRA convention in Florida
Charlton Heston and wife Lydia at NRA convention in Florida

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ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) -- Charlton Heston, the film star who led the controversial National Rifle Association and became the nation's symbol of firearms rights, reprised his trademark gesture to say goodbye Saturday to what is arguably America's most powerful lobby.

"From my cold dead hands," he uttered, as he thrust a rare Winchester rifle he had received as a parting gift high over his head.

"It's been quite a ride," Heston told the group's convention. "I loved every minute of it."

Heston -- who announced last year that he is suffering symptoms of Alzheimer's disease -- walked slowly on the podium.

The 78-year-old -- famed for his portrayal of Moses in "The Ten Commandments" -- and the audience watched him deliver a short, videotaped farewell address that was accompanied by a soft piano soundtrack and contained his familiar, stirring rhetoric extolling freedom and the Second Amendment.

He warned of "perils" ahead and admonished the group not to be a "summer soldier" or a "sunshine patriot" who "shrink from battle."

"I think we make a difference together. We are a freer people than if we hadn't fought this good fight," said Heston, who served as president for six years.

"You who inherit the heavy privilege to serve in freedom's name. You who must brace for battle surely to come."

He invoked the country's founding fathers, whom he called "wise men and warriors" -- such as "Jefferson, Adams, Mason, Hamilton, Madison and many more." Some, he said, he portrayed on film.

"I'm ruled by my love for this country, civilization's greatest achievement. So I've always answered the call to muster. That's what Americans do. We don't cut and run. We keep our promises."

He reminded the group that he fought for freedom with others, including civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, assassinated in the late 1960s, and Ronald Reagan, another former actor who went on to become president of a large group -- the United States -- and then was stricken by Alzheimer's.

Heston told the group -- "you do the work of warriors" and praised its demographic diversity and clout.

"Nowhere else is in the world or in the history of the world is there a fellowship of millions devoted to the singular mission of preserving freedom from its adversaries."

"Those who expected to reap the blessings of freedom, said Thomas Paine, must undergo the fatigue of supporting it."

Heston repeated the Biblical phrase that is engraved on the Liberty Bell -- "Go forth and proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof."

After the tape was shown, Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, presented Heston with the "quintessential cowboy" rifle "that helped win the American West."

"You've ridden high in the saddle and you've made all of us proud."

Heston will be succeeded by Kayne Robinson, former chairman of the Iowa State Republican Party.

After the tape, Heston moved to the podium, where he repeated his trademark "cold dead hands" phrase and made a few remarks of thanks.

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