Omar Sharif, the famous actor in films like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, died today Friday 10 July, of a heart attack in a
hospital in Cairo. He was 83. Only a couple of months ago his son Tareq had announced that he was suffering of Alzheimer's disease. Omar Sharif was not only an well known Hollywood star. At the beginning of his career he played in more than 20 Egyptian films, which made him also a darling of the Egyptian audiences.
He was born in Alexandria in 1932 as Michel Demitri Chalhoub, son of a Christian Lebanese family. His father was an importer of wood. He studied physics and mathemathics in Cairo and worked five years with the family business before he began his acting career in 1953 with a role in Sira`fi'l-Wadi (Struggle in the Valley), directed bij Youssef Chahine and with actress Faten Hamama, whom he would marry one year later. For this purpose he had to convert to the Islam. In the meantime he had adopted Omar el-Sharif as his ''nom de guerre''.
Other films from these years include Ayyamna el helwa (Our Beautiful Days) with the singer/actor Abdel Halim Hafez, La anam (Sleepless, 1958) directed by Salah Abu Seif, Sayedat el-qasr (The Lady of the Palace, 1959) directed by Kamel el-Sheikh and Nahr el hub (River of Love, 1961), an adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, directed bij Ezzedin Zulficcar. In these last three films he acted together with his wife Faten Hamama. They also performed as a couple in many other produtions.
Sharif's first English-language film was Lawrence of Arabia (1962), directed by David Lean. His performance as Sharif Ali earned him an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award. Following this breakthrough, he played a Spanish priest in Behold a Pale Horse (1964), a Yugoslav patriot in The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), Genghis Khan (1965) in the film of the same name, and the role of Doctor Zhivago, an adaptation of Boris Pasternak's 's novel directed by David Lean.
After that he played an great variety of roles, like Che Guevara in Che!, the Italian explorer Marco Polo in Marco the Magnificent, the Jewish gambler Nicky Arnstein, husband to Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, a film in which he acted with Barbra Streisand, a German general in The Night of the Generals, an Austrian prince in Mayerling, a Mexican bandit in Mackenna’s Gold, and he appeared together with Peter Sellers in The Return of the Pink Panter (1976).
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Sharif was apart from his acting career also an avid and seasond bridge player who wrote two books about this game. His Hollywood career cost him his marriage with Faten Hamama. After long periods during which he was absent from Egypt the two divorced in 1974 but remained friends. Sharif never remarried. In the last years of his life he was most of the time to be found in Cairo with his son Tareq and two grandsons. Sharif's death followed on the heels of his ex-wife Faten Hamama, who was considered to be ''the grand old lady'' of the Egyptian film. She died, also at the age of 83, in January of this year.