Sunday, 12 July 2015


“Although for some people the cinema means something superficial and glamorous, it is something else. I think it is the mirror of the world.” - Jeanne Moreau

Omar Sharif (born Michel Demitri Chalhoub; 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.

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 a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, as well as a shared Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor. He went on to play several more character roles, until he collaborated with Lean again in 1965, to create one his most characteristic roles, Doctor Zhivago.

“Doctor Zhivago” (1965) was 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. For his performance, he won the Golden 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. 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.

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).

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.

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. 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.

Vale, Omar Sharif!

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