Born in Alexandria, Egypt, on April 10, 1932, Omar Sharif became a film star in his native country before earning international renown for his role in Lawrence of Arabia, thus earning an Oscar nomination and winning two Golden Globes. In the ‘60s he also starred in Doctor Zhivago (for which he won another Globe) and Funny Girl, with later roles including films like Monsieur Ibrahim and Hidalgo. Renowned as a bridge player, Sharif also faced media scrutiny and court time for various cases of assaults in public. It was revealed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's shortly before his death on July 10, 2015.
Omar Sharif was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on April 10, 1932. Part of an Egyptian-Lebanese clan, he was able to attend English school, eventually learning several languages and developing a love for theater. He studied math and physics at Victory College in Cairo, and worked in his father’s business for a time before focusing on his passion, making his Egyptian film debut in 1953 and becoming a top star. He wed fellow thespian Faten Hamama in 1955, with the couple going on to have a son, Tarek.
Role in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’
Sharif eventually attracted international attention for his prominent part in director David Lean’s 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole. Lauded for his mesmerizing entrance, Sharif’s role as Sherif Ali Ben El Kharish earned the actor an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, as well as Golden Globe wins for supporting actor and New Star of the Year.
Sharif continued his working relationship with Lean, starring in the filmmaker’s subsequent classic, Doctor Zhivago (1965), which focused on the Russian Revolution. In the title role, Sharif co-starred with Julie Christie and earned another Golden Globe, this time for actor in a drama.
Co-Stars With Barbra Streisand
Other films on Sharif’s roster during this era included The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), Behold a Pale Horse (1964), Genghis Khan (1965) and Mayerling (1968). He joined singer/actress Barbra Streisand in the acclaimed 1968 musical Funny Girl, in which she played singer Fanny Brice and he portrayed gambler husband Nicky Arnstein.
Sharif’s later work included Blake Edward's The Tamarind Seed (1974), with Julie Andrews, Funny Lady (a 1975 sequel to Funny Girl), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), with Peter Sellers, Top Secret! (1984) and Heaven Before I Die (1997). Taking on TV projects as well, he also appeared in productions like The Far Pavilion (1984) and Gulliver's Travels (1996).
"In these times, when we're living with conflicts all over the place, I thought it would be nice to make a small picture [Monsieur Ibrahim] with tolerance in it and to say that we can live together and love each other, no matter what race or religion we are." - Omar Sharif
In the new millennium, Sharif continued his big-screen performances with Monsieur Ibrahim (2003), in which he portrayed a Muslim shopkeeper who befriends a Jewish youth in 1960s Paris. Sharif also starred in Hidalgo, another sand-based feature starring Viggo Mortensen, and One Night With the King (2005).
Bio, Bridge and Accolades
Sharif published an autobiography, The Eternal Male (1977), and earned renown as a bridge player, also releasing the books Play Bridge With Omar Sharif (1990) and Omar Sharif Talks Bridge (2004). In 2003, he received the Venice Film Festival's Audience Award and the Career Golden Lion prize for his achievement in film. The following year he won France's César Award for Monsieur Ibrahim, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Dubai International Film Festival.
Family Life and Public Assaults
As reported by Sharif in an interview, he and Hamama amicably divorced in 1974 due to his prolonged time away from Egypt. The couple had several grandchildren, with Sharif's grandson, Omar Sharif Jr., coming out as gay and of partial Jewish descent in 2012. An actor as well, Sharif Jr. was forced to leave his home country of Egypt due to homophobic persecution amid political turmoil, telling his story in an Advocate essay.
In addition to his screen work, the elder Sharif made news over his pattern of public displays of violence. He received fines and a suspended prison sentence for headbutting a police officer at a French casino, with the incident caught on camera. In 2007, he hit a Beverly Hills parking attendant in the face. Sharif pled no contest to the assault, thus receiving probation, anger management counseling and a fine. Later, in 2011, he was caught on video slapping a young female journalist readying to take a picture with him while on the red carpet at a Qatar film festival.
In late May 2015, Sharif's son, Tarek, and agent, Steve Kenis, revealed that the actor had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Sharif had a heart attack and died on July 10, 2015, in a Cairo hospital. The actor was 83 years old and is survived by his son and two grandsons.
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