"Charlton Heston was seen by the world as larger than life. He was known for his chiseled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice, and, of course, for the roles he played," Heston's family said in a statement.
The spokesman declined to comment on the cause of death but said Heston died at his home in Beverly Hills with his wife Lydia at his side. Heston revealed in 2002 that he had symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease.
With his large, muscular build, well-boned face and sonorous voice, Heston proved the ideal star during the period when Hollywood was filling movie screens with panoramas depicting the religious and historical past.
The actor assumed the role of leader offscreen as well. He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild and chairman of the American Film Institute and marched in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
A statement from former first lady Nancy Reagan says she was "heartbroken" to learn of Heston's death, adding that he was also a "hero" for helping support Ronald Reagan in "whatever he was doing."
The National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre says Heston -- a former president of the group -- was "a great patriot."
Heston lent his strong presence to some of the most acclaimed and successful films of the midcentury.
"Ben-Hur" won 11 Academy Awards, tying it for the record with the more recent "Titanic" (1997) and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003). He won the 1959 best actor Oscar as the chariot-racing "Ben-Hur."
Heston's other hits include: "The Ten Commandments,""El Cid,""55 Days at Peking" and "Planet of the Apes."
He liked to cite the number of historical figures he had portrayed, including Moses ("The Ten Commandments"), John the Baptist ("The Greatest Story Ever Told") and Michelangelo ("The Agony and the Ecstasy").
At his birth in a Chicago suburb on Oct. 4, 1923, his name was Charles Carter. His parents moved to St. Helen, Mich., where his father, Russell Carter, operated a lumber mill. Growing up in the Michigan woods with almost no playmates, young Charles read books of adventure and devised his own games while wandering the countryside with his rifle.
Charles's parents divorced, and she married Chester Heston, a factory plant superintendent in Wilmette, Ill., an upscale north Chicago suburb. Shy and feeling displaced in the big city, the boy had trouble adjusting to the new high school. He took refuge in the drama department.
Calling himself Charlton Heston from his mother's maiden name and his stepfather's last name, he won an acting scholarship to Northwestern University in 1941. He excelled in campus plays and appeared on Chicago radio. In 1943, he enlisted in the Army Air Force and served as a radio-gunner in the Aleutians.
Heston made his movie debut in the 1940s in two independent films by a college classmate, David Bradley, who later became a noted film archivist. He had the title role in "Peer Gynt" in 1942 and was Marc Antony in Bradley's 1949 version of "Julius Caesar," for which Heston was paid $50 a week.
Heston wrote several books: "The Actor's Life: Journals 1956-1976," published in 1978; "Beijing Diary: 1990," concerning his direction of the play "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial" in Chinese; "In the Arena: An Autobiography," 1995; and "Charlton Heston's Hollywood: 50 Years of American Filmmaking," 1998.
In late years, Heston drew as much publicity for his crusades as for his performances. In addition to his NRA work, he campaigned for Republican presidential and congressional candidates and against affirmative action.