Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor who rode out of the desert in the 1962 screen epic “Lawrence of Arabia” into a glamorous if brief reign as an international star in films like “Doctor Zhivago” and “The Night of the Generals,” died on Friday in Cairo. He was 83.
His death, at a hospital, was caused by a heart attack, said his agent, Steve Kenis.
Mr. Sharif — who later became as well known for his mastery of bridge as he was for his acting — was a commanding, darkly handsome presence onscreen. He was multilingual as well, and comfortable in almost any role or cultural setting.
He had appeared in a number of Egyptian films before the British director David Lean added him to the cast of “Lawrence of Arabia,” a freewheeling depiction of the real-life exploits of the British adventurer T. E. Lawrence, who led Arab fighters in a series of battles against Turkish occupiers. Peter O’Toole starred in the title role.
Mr. Sharif played the Arab warrior Sherif Ali, who joins forces with Lawrence. The scene depicting his arrival is widely regarded as a classic piece of cinematic art. In it he appears at first as a tiny speck on the desert horizon and then slowly approaches, until he materializes into a figure riding a camel. Mr. Sharif’s performance, in his first English-language film, brought him an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor.
The 1960s proved to be Mr. Sharif’s best, busiest and most visible decade in Hollywood. In quick succession he appeared in “The Fall of the Roman Empire” (1964), as a king of ancient Armenia; “Behold a Pale Horse” (1964), as a priest during the Spanish Civil War; “The Yellow Rolls-Royce” (1965), as a Yugoslav patriot intent on saving his country from the Nazis; “Genghis Khan” (1965), as the conquering Mongol leader; “Doctor Zhivago” (1965), as a Russian physician-poet whose world is torn apart by war; “The Night of the Generals” (1967), as a German intelligence officer; “Funny Girl” (1968), as a shifty gambler, and — in a rare early-career misstep — the critical and box-office disaster “Che!” (1969), as the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, opposite Jack Palance as Fidel Castro.
There were more films to come, but it was Mr. Sharif’s performance in “Doctor Zhivago” that is generally considered the high point of his career. Adapted from the novel by Boris Pasternak, the film was a sweeping portrait of war and rebellion in Czarist Russia. Mr. Sharif, in the role of the sensitive, brooding Zhivago, plunges into a doomed love affair with another man’s wife, played by Julie Christie, as violence engulfs their lives.
World War II was the setting for “The Night of the Generals,” a drama about the Nazi high command in Warsaw that reunited Mr. Sharif and Mr. O’Toole. Mr. Sharif played a junior officer assigned to investigate a trio of generals, one of whom (Mr. O’Toole) has been killing prostitutes.
It was a long way from strife-torn Europe to the world of show business in New York, but Mr. Sharif made the leap when he played a dashing card shark in the movie version of the Broadway musical“Funny Girl.” Barbra Streisand, in her screen debut, starred as the singer and comedian Fanny Brice; Mr. Sharif played Nicky Arnstein, the gambler she falls in love with.
The involvement, both on and off screen, of Mr. Sharif and Ms. Streisand, a Jewish actress and a visible supporter of Israel, got him in trouble with the Egyptian authorities. Still, Mr. Sharif appeared with Ms. Streisand in a sequel, “Funny Lady,” in 1975, although James Caan as the showman Billy Rose was the romantic lead this time.
Omar Sharif was born Michel Demitri Shalhoub on April 10, 1932, into a well-to-do family in Alexandria, Egypt. He graduated from Cairo University with a degree in mathematics and physics and worked for several years for the lumber company his father ran.
In the early 1950s he decided to capitalize on his good looks and ventured into film acting under the name Omar El-Sharif. He soon had a legion of fans, especially after co-starring with Faten Hamama, one of Egypt’s leading actresses. In 1955 he converted from Catholicism to Islam, and they were married soon after. They had a son, Tarek, who survives him, before separating in 1966 and divorcing in 1974. Ms. Hamama died in January. Further information on survivors was not immediately available.
Mr. Sharif appeared in dozens of movies after the 1960s, but his film career was clearly headed downhill. He liked to gamble, became an aficionado of horse racing and spent more and more time playing competitive bridge. An expert on the game, he wrote a syndicated bridge column and a number of books on the subject, including “Omar Sharif’s Life in Bridge” (1983). His autobiography, “The Eternal Male,” written with Marie-Thérèse Guinchard, was published in 1977.
He was philosophical about the ups and downs of his career. “Look, I had it good and bad,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1995. “I did three films that are classics, which is very rare in itself, and they were all made within five years.”
He attributed his change of film fortune to what he called “the cultural revolution” at the end of the 1960s. “There was a rise of young, talented directors,” he added, “but they were making films about their own societies. There was no more room for a foreigner, so suddenly there were no more parts.”
There were in fact at least a few parts. Mr. Sharif continued to appear in films, many made for television. In “Pleasure Palace,” shown on CBS in 1980, he was a European playboy who comes to Las Vegas for a no-holds-barred gambling duel with a millionaire Texan. In the 1995 A&E film “Catherine the Great,” starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, he was a Russian prince.
His later films included “Monsieur Ibrahim” (2003), set in 1960s Paris, in which he played an aging Muslim grocer who befriends a rudderless Jewish teenager; and “Hidalgo” (2004), as an Arab sheik who invites an American cowboy (Viggo Mortensen) to participate in a survival race across the desert. His most recent film role was in the French family drama “Rock the Casbah” (2013).
t I’m going to do. I think of what I’m doing right now.”
Omar Sharif (Arabic: عمر الشريـف, Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [ˈʕomɑɾˤ eʃʃɪˈɾiːf]; born Michel Demitri Chalhoub [miˈʃel dɪˈmitɾi ʃælˈhuːb]; 10 April 1932 – 10 July 2015) was an Egyptian actor. He began his career in his native country in the 1950s, but is best known for his appearances in both British and American productions. His films included Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Funny Girl (1968). He was nominated for an Academy Award. He won three Golden Globe Awards and a César Award.
Sharif, who spoke Arabic, English, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian, was often cast as a foreigner of some sort. He bridled at travel restrictions imposed during the reign of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, leading to self-exile in Europe. The estrangement this caused led to an amicable divorce from his wife, the iconic Egyptian actress Faten Hamama, for whom he had converted to Islam. He was a lifelong gambler, and at one time ranked among the world's top contract bridge players.
Omar Sharif, whose surname means "noble" or "nobleman" in Arabic, was born on 10 April 1932, as Michel Demitri Chalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, to a Melkite Greek Catholicfamily of Lebanese descent. His father, Joseph Chalhoub, a precious woods merchant originally from Zahle, moved to Egypt in the early 20th century, particularly Alexandria, where Omar Sharif was born, his family moved to Cairo when he was four. His mother, Claire Saada, was a noted society hostess, and Egypt's King Farouk was a regular visitor until he was deposed in 1952.
In his youth, Sharif studied at Victoria College, Alexandria, where he showed a talent for languages. He later graduated from Cairo University with a degree in mathematics and physics. He then worked for a while in his father's precious wood business before studying acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. In 1955, Sharif changed his name and converted toIslam in order to marry fellow Egyptian actress Faten Hamama.
In 1954, Sharif began his acting career in his native Egypt with a role in Shaytan Al-Sahra ("Devil of the Desert"). In the same year he appeared in Sira` Fi al-Wadi ("Struggle in the Valley"). He quickly rose to stardom, appearing in Egyptian productions, including La Anam ("Sleepless") in 1958, Sayyidat al-Qasr ("Lady of the Palace") in 1959 and the Anna Karenina adaptation Nahr el hub ("The River of Love") in 1961. He also starred with his wife, Egyptian actress Faten Hamama, in several movies as romantic leads.
Sharif's first English-language role was that of Sharif Ali in David Lean's historical epic Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. This performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and aGolden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, as well as a shared Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor. Casting Sharif in what is now considered one of the "most demanding supporting roles in Hollywood history", was both complex and risky, as he was virtually unknown at the time outside of Egypt. However, notes historian Steven Charles Caton, Lean insisted on using ethnic actors when possible to make the film authentic.:56 Sharif would later use his ambiguous ethnicity in other films which enhanced his career: "I spoke French, Greek, Italian, Spanish and even Arabic", he said....with an accent that enabled me to play the role of a foreigner without anyone knowing exactly where I came from, something that has proved highly successful throughout my career.":56
Over the next few years, Sharif co-starred in other films, including Behold a Pale Horse (1964). Director Fred Zinnemann said he chose Sharif partly on the suggestion of David Lean. "He said he was an absolutely marvelous actor,'If you possibly can take a look at him.'" Film historian Richard Schickel wrote that Sharif gave a "truly wonderful performance", especially noteworthy because of his totally different role in Lawrence of Arabia: "It is hard to believe that the priest and the sheik are played by the same man". Sharif also played a Yugoslav wartime patriot in The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), the Mongolian conqueror in Genghis Khan (1965), a German military officer in The Night of the Generals (1967), Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria in Mayerling (1968) and Che Guevara in Che! (1969).
In 1965, Sharif reunited with Lean in order to play the title role in the epic love story Doctor Zhivago (1965), an adaptation of Boris Pasternak's 1957 novel, which was banned in the USSR for 30 years. Set during World War I and the Russian Revolution, Sharif played the role of Yuri Zhivago, a poet and physician. Film historian Constantine Santas explained that Lean intended the film to be a poetic portrayal of the period, with large vistas of landscapes combined with a powerful score by Maurice Jarre. He notes that Sharif's role is "passive", his eyes reflecting "reality" which then become "the mirror of reality we ourselves see". In a commentary on the DVD (2001 edition), Sharif described Lean's style of directing as similar to a general commanding an army.:xxviii For his performance, he won theGolden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, while the film received ten Academy Award nominations, but Sharif was not nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Sharif was also acclaimed for his portrayal of Nicky Arnstein in Funny Girl (1968). He portrayed the husband of Fanny Brice, played by Barbra Streisand in her first film role. His decision to work alongside Streisand angered Egypt's government, because of her support for Israel during the Six Day War, however, and the country condemned the film. It was also "immediately banned" in numerous Arab nations.:48 Streisand herself jokingly responded, "You think Cairo was upset? You should've seen the letter I got from my Aunt Rose!". Sharif and Streisand became romantically involved during the filming.:18 He admitted later that he did not find Streisand attractive at first, but her appeal soon overwhelmed him: "About a week from the moment I met her", he recalled, "I was madly in love with her. I thought she was the most gorgeous girl I'd ever seen in my life...I found her physically beautiful, and I started lusting after this woman.":48 Sharif reprised the role in the film's sequel, Funny Lady in 1975.
Among Sharif's other films were the western Mackenna's Gold (1969), playing an outlaw opposite Gregory Peck; the thriller Juggernaut (1974), which co-starred Richard Harris, and the romantic drama The Tamarind Seed (1974), co-starring Julie Andrews, and directed by Blake Edwards. Sharif also contributed comic cameo performances in Edwards' The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and in the 1984 spy-film spoof Top Secret! In 2003, he received acclaim for his leading role in Monsieur Ibrahim, a French-language film adaptation of the novel Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran, as a Muslim Turkish merchant who becomes a father figure for a Jewish boy. For this performance, Sharif received the César Award for Best Actor. Sharif's later film roles included performances in Hidalgo (2004) and Rock the Casbah (2013).
Contract bridge career
Sharif once ranked among the world's top 50 contract bridge players, and played in an exhibition match before the Shah of Iran. With Charles Goren, Sharif co-wrote a syndicated newspaper bridge column for the Chicago Tribune for several years, but mostly turned over the writing of the column to Tannah Hirsch. He was also both author and co-author of several books on bridge and licensed his name to a bridge video game; initially released in a MS-DOS version and Amiga version in 1992, Omar Sharif on Bridge is still sold in Windows and mobile platform versions. Computer Gaming World in 1992 described the game as "easy to get into, challenging to play and well-designed", and named it one of the year's best strategy games. In 1993 the magazine stated that "it does not play a very good game of bridge", however, and criticized it for inadequate documentation and forcing players to conform to its bidding style. The magazine recommended two other bridge games instead.
Sharif was a regular in casinos in France.
Family and personal relationships
Sharif lived in his native Egypt from his birth in 1932 until he moved to Europe in 1965. He recounted that in 1932, his father "wasn't a wealthy man", but "earned quite a bit of money". Before theEgyptian Revolution of 1952, King Farouk frequented Sharif's family home, and became a friend and card-game partner of Sharif's mother. His mother was an elegant and charming hostess who was all too delighted with the association because it gave her the privilege of "consorting only with the elite" of Egyptian society. Sharif also recounted that his father's timber business was very successful during that time, in ways that Sharif describes as dishonest or immoral. By contrast, after 1952, Sharif stated that wealth changed hands in Egypt, under Nasser's nationalisation policies. His father's business "took a beating".
In 1954 Sharif starred in the film Struggle in the Valley opposite Faten Hamama, who shared a kiss with him, although she had previously refused to kiss on screen. The two fell in love; Sharif converted to Islam and married her. They had one son, Tarek El-Sharif, born in 1957 in Egypt, who appeared in Doctor Zhivago as Yuri at the age of eight. The couple separated in 1966 and the marriage ended in 1974. Sharif never remarried; he stated that since his divorce, he had never fallen in love with another woman.
The Nasser government imposed travel restrictions in the form of "exit visas", so Sharif's travel to take part in international films was sometimes impeded, which he could not tolerate. These travel restrictions influenced Sharif's decision to remain in Europe between his film shoots, a decision that cost him his marriage to Faten Hamama, though they remained friends. It was a major crossroads in Sharif's life and changed him from an established family man to a lifelong bachelor living in European hotels. When commenting about his fame and life in Hollywood, Sharif said, "It gave me glory, but it gave me loneliness also. And a lot of missing my own land, my own people and my own country". When Sharif's affair with Barbra Streisand was made public in the Egyptian press, his Egyptian citizenship was almost withdrawn by the Egyptian Government because of Streisand's vocal support of Israel, which was then in a state of war with Egypt.
Sharif became friends with Peter O'Toole during the making of Lawrence of Arabia. They appeared in several other films together and remained close friends. He was also good friends with Egyptologist Zahi Hawass. Actor and friend Tom Courtenay revealed in an interview for the 19 July 2008 edition of BBC Radio's Test Match Special that Sharif supported Hull City Association Football Club and in the 1970s he would telephone their automated scoreline from his home in Paris for score updates. Sharif was given an honorary degree by the University of Hull in 2010 and he used the occasion to meet Hull City football player Ken Wagstaff. Sharif also had an interest in horse racing spanning more than 50 years. He had a long friendship with racehorse trainer David Smaga and Sharif was often seen at French racecourses, with Deauville-La Touques Racecourse being his favourite. Sharif's horses won a number of important races and he had his best successes with Don Bosco, who won the Prix Gontaut-Biron, Prix Perth and Prix du Muguet. He also wrote for a French horse racing magazine.
In later life, Sharif lived mostly in Cairo with his family. In addition to his son, he had two grandsons, Omar (born 1983 in Montreal) and Karim. Omar Sharif, Jr. is also an actor.
Illness and death
In May 2015 it was reported that Sharif was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. His son Tarek El-Sharif said that his father was becoming confused when remembering some of the biggest films of his career; he would mix up the names of his best-known films, Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, often forgetting where they were filmed.
On 10 July 2015, less than six months after Hamama's death at the same age, Sharif died after suffering a heart attack at a hospital in Cairo, Egypt. He was 83.
On 12 July 2015, Sharif's funeral was held at the Grand Mosque of Mushir Tantawi in eastern Cairo. The funeral was attended by a group of Sharif's relatives, friends and Egyptian actors, his casket draped in the Egyptian flag and a black shroud.
In November 2005, Sharif was awarded the inaugural Sergei Eisenstein Medal by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in recognition of his significant contributions to world film and cultural diversity. The medal, which is awarded very infrequently, is named after Russian director Sergei Eisenstein. Only 25 have been struck, as determined by the agreement between UNESCO, Russia's Mosfilm and the Vivat Foundation.
|1954||Shaytan al-Sahra||Known as Devil of the Sahara|
|1954||Sira` Fi al-Wadi||Ahmed||Also known as The Blazing Sun or Struggle in the Valley or Fight in the Valley|
|1955||Ayyamna al-Holwa||Ahmed||Also known as Our Best Days|
|1956||Sira` Fi al-Mina||Ragab||Also known as A Fight Within the Port|
|1957||Ard al-Salam||Ahmed||Known as Land of Peace|
|1957||La Châtelaine du Liban||Mokrir||Also known as The Lebanese Mission; credited as Omar Cherif|
|1958||La Anam||Aziz||Also known as Sleepless and No Tomorrow|
|Goha||Goha||Credited as Omar Cherif|
|1959||Sayyidat al-Qasr||Adel||Lady of the Palace|
|Siraa fil Nil||Muhassab||Struggle on the Nile|
|1960||Bidaya wa Nihaya||Hassanien||Also known as A Beginning and an End|
|Hobi al-Wahid||My Only Love|
|Esha'a hob||Hussein||A Rumor of Love|
|Nahr al-Hob||Khalid||The River of Love|
|1961||Fi Baytouna Ragoul||Ibrahim||Also known as في بيتنا رجل A Man in our House|
|1962||Lawrence of Arabia||Sherif Ali||Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture|
Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
|1964||The Fall of the Roman Empire||Sohamus|
|Behold a Pale Horse||Francisco|
|The Yellow Rolls-Royce||Davich|
|1965||Genghis Khan||Genghis Khan|
|Marco the Magnificent||Sheik Alla Hou, 'The Desert Wind'|
|Doctor Zhivago||Dr. Zhivago (Yuri)||Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama|
|1966||The Poppy Is Also a Flower||Dr. Rad|
|1967||The Night of the Generals||Major Grau|
|More Than a Miracle||Prince Rodrigo Fernandez|
|1968||Funny Girl||Nick Arnstein|
|The Appointment||Frenderico Fendi|
|1970||The Last Valley||Vogel|
|The Burglars||Abel Zacharia||simultaneously shot in French as Le Casse with the same cast|
|1974||The Tamarind Seed||Feodor Sverdlov|
|Juggernaut||Captain Alex Brunel|
|1975||Funny Lady||Nicky Arnstein|
|1976||Ace Up My Sleeve||Andre Ferren||also known as Crime and Passion|
|The Pink Panther Strikes Again||Egyptian assassin||uncredited cameo|
|1979||Ashanti: Land of No Mercy||Prince Hassan|
|1980||S*H*E||Baron Cesare Magnasco||S*H*E: Security Hazards Expert|
|The Baltimore Bullet||The Deacon|
|Oh! Heavenly Dog||Bart|
|1981||Green Ice||Meno Argenti|
|Inchon||Indian officer||uncredited cameo|
|1984||Top Secret!||Agent Cedric|
|1987||Grand Larceny||Rashid Saud|
|1988||The Possessed||Stepan||Les Possédés|
|Les Pyramides bleues||Alex||The Novice|
|1989||Al-aragoz ||Mohamed Gad El Kareem||The Puppeteer|
|1990||The Rainbow Thief||Dima|
|1991||War in the Land of Egypt||Known as El Mowaten Masri or An Egyptian Citizen|
|1992||Beyond Justice||Emir Beni-Zair|
|588 rue paradis||Hagop||Mother|
|1993||Dehk we le'b we gad we hob||Laughter, Games, Seriousness and Love|
|1997||Heaven Before I Die||Khalil Gibran|
|1998||Mysteries of Egypt||Grandfather||Documentary|
|1999||The 13th Warrior||Melchisideck|
|2001||The Parole Officer||Victor|
|2003||Monsieur Ibrahim||Monsieur Ibrahim||César Award for Best Actor|
|2006||One Night with the King||Prince Memucan|
|2008||Hassan & Marcus||Hassan/Morcus||Hassan wa Morcus|
|10,000 BC||Narrator||Voice only|
|2009||The Traveller||Older Hassan||Commonly known as Al Mosafer|
|J'ai oublié de te dire||Jaume||I forgot to Tell You|
|2013||Rock the Casbah||Moulay Hassan|
|2015||1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham||Grandfather/Narrator||Voice; final film role|
|1973||The Mysterious Island||Captain Nemo||TV miniseries; also known as L'Ile Mysterieuse|
|1984||The Far Pavilions||Koda Dad||TV miniseries, based on The Far Pavilions|
|1986||Peter the Great||Prince Feodor Romodanovsky||TV miniseries|
|Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna||Czar Nicholas II||TV miniseries|
|1991||Memories of Midnight||Constantin Demiris||TV movie|
|1992||Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris||Marquis Hippolite||TV Movie|
|1995||Catherine the Great||Razumovsky||TV movie|
|1996||Gulliver's Travels||The Sorcerer||TV movie|
|2001||Shaka Zulu: The Citadel||The King||TV movie|
|2005||Imperium: Saint Peter||Saint Peter||TV movie|
|2006||The Ten Commandments||Jethro||TV miniseries|
|2007||Hanan W Haneen||Raouf||Egyptian TV series,also known as Tenderness and Nostalgia|
|2008||The Last Templar||Konstantine||TV series|