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Iconic Egyptian actor Omar Sharif dies at 83

AP , Friday 10 Jul 2015
Omar Sharif
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Omar Sharif, the Egyptian-born actor with the dark, soulful eyes who soared to international stardom in movie epics, "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago," died Friday. He was 83.

Sharif died of a heart attack in a Cairo hospital, his longtime agent, London-based Steve Kenis, and the head of Egypt's Theatrical Arts Guild, Ashraf Zaki, told The Associated Press. The actor had been suffering from Alzheimer's.

Sharif was Egypt's biggest box-office star when director David Lean cast him in 1962's "Lawrence of Arabia." But he was not the director's first choice to play Sherif Ali, the tribal leader with whom the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence teams up to help lead the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

Lean had hired another actor but dropped him because his eyes weren't the right color. The film's producer, Sam Spiegel, went to Cairo to search for a replacement and found Sharif. After passing a screen test that proved he was fluent in English, he got the job.

His entrance in the movie was stunning. He was first seen in the distance, a speck in the swirling desert sand. As he drew closer, he emerged first as a black figure on a galloping camel, slowly transforming into a handsome, dark-eyed figure with a gap-tooth smile.

The film brought him a supporting-actor Oscar nomination and international stardom.

Three years later, Sharif demonstrated his versatility, playing the leading role of a doctor-poet who endures decades of Russian history, including World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, surviving on his art and his love for his beloved Lara in "Dr. Zhivago."

Lean's adaptation of the Boris Pasternak novel had a rocky beginning in its first U.S. release. Attendance was sparse and reviews were negative.

After MGM removed it from theaters and Lean re-edited the sprawling tale, it was re-released and became a box-office hit. Still, Sharif never thought it was as good as it could have been.

"It's sentimental. Too much of that music," he once said, referring to Maurice Jarre's luscious Oscar-winning score.

Although Sharif never achieved that level of success again, he remained a sought-after actor for many years, partly because of his proficiency at playing different nationalities.

He was Argentine-born revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara in "Che!", Italian Marco Polo in "Marco the Magnificent" and Mongol leader Genghis Khan in "Genghis Khan." He was a German officer in "The Night of the Generals," an Austrian prince in "Mayerling" and a Mexican outlaw in "Mackenna's Gold."

He was also the Jewish gambler Nick Arnstein opposite Barbra Streisand's Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl." The 1968 film was banned in his native Egypt because he was cast as a Jew.

In his middle years Sharif began appearing in such films as "The Pink Panther Strikes Again," ''Oh Heavenly Dog!," ''The Baltimore Bullet" and others he dismissed as "rubbish."

The drought lasted so long that finally, beginning in the late 1990s, Sharif began declining all film offers.

"I lost my self-respect and dignity," he told a reporter in 2004. "Even my grandchildren were making fun of me. 'Grandpa, that was really bad. And this one? It's worse.'"

In 2003 he accepted a role in the French film "Monsieur Ibrahim," portraying a Muslim shopkeeper in Paris who adopts a Jewish boy.

The role won him the Cesar, the French equivalent of the Oscar, and he followed with "Hidalgo," a lively western starring Viggo Mortensen. In that one he was a desert sheik who duels 11 assailants with a sword. His career was back on track.

He suffered a public embarrassment in 2007, however, when he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery and was ordered to take an anger management course for punching a parking valet who refused to accept his European currency.

Born Michael Shalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, Sharif was the son of Syrian-Lebanese parents.

After working three years at his father's lumber company, he fulfilled his longtime ambition to become a movie actor, going on to appear in nearly two dozen Egyptian films under the name Omar el Sharif.

His fame only increased when he married Egypt's movie queen, Faten Hamama, in 1955. They had a son, Tarek, and divorced in 1974.

In 2004 Sharif acknowledged that he also had another son, who was born after a one-night stand with an interviewer.

Away from the movies, Sharif was a world-class bridge player who for many years wrote a newspaper column on bridge. He quit the game in later years, however, when he gave up gambling.

He had been a prodigious gambler, reportedly once winning a million dollars at an Italian casino. After losing a substantial amount at a Paris casino in 2003, he insulted a croupier and was ordered to leave. When he refused, he was thrown out and head-butted a policeman during an ensuing scuffle. He was fined $1,700 and given a one-month suspended sentence.

Sharif spent much of his later years in Cairo and at the Royal Moncean Hotel in Paris.

"When you live alone and you're not young, it's good to live in a hotel," he told a reporter in 2005. "If you feel lonely, you can go down to the bar. I know all the people who work here and who come here regularly. The room is done for you, and you don't have to worry about anything," he said. "If you feel anything, health-wise, you can call the concierge and tell them to bring all the ambulances in Paris."

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Hani Booz
11-07-2015 10:13am
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The loss of a Great ambassador
When his ex wife Faten Hamama passed away,I wrote in my comment I feel for Omar.He always maintained she was his only true love.With earlier loss of his best friend Ahmed Ramzi it was 2 blows to his head.As we mourn his death we will never forget his smile and his famous films. I saw Dr.Zhivago in Stockholm in 1970.The cinema ticket had his name on it!They loved him in Sweden not only for that film,Laurence of Arabia but also for his roll with Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl which was full of controversy in and out of the set.I still have his record singing with Barbra. So why was Omar so special and most famous Egyptian since King Tout.A talent in acting,a fluency in speaking many languages and a charismatic eyes and personality.He was a phenomenon. They love him in UK not only for his acting but also for his Bridge skills.He used to write regularly for one news paper on the game.I saw him live in London theater in 1984 performing the sleeping prince.he was marvelous. We love U&MissU
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Maria Silva
10-07-2015 05:25pm
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Death of Omar Sharif
Very sorry for his death. He was on one of the best films ever, David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia", and of the main cast he was the last one to leave us. May he rest in peace. I will watch this film tonight in memoriam. From Lisbon, Portugal Maria Silva
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Rafik Tabet
10-07-2015 04:36pm
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Great Talent
You are gone, but you are in our hearts. Your acting talent gave us much pleasure. Thanks. You are among a legion of great Egyptians of Lebanese background.
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arps
10-07-2015 04:33pm
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Omar
Just an FYI Omar never appeared in "The Pink Panther Strikes Again."
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