Once known as ‘the most famous Egyptian since Cleopatra’, Omar Sharif died on 10th July 2015 at the age of 83.
Born Michel Demitri Chalhoub, he began his acting career in Egypt in 1954 with Youssef Chahine’s Siraa Fi al-Wadi (The Blazing Sun) and Shaytan al-Sahra (Devil of the Sahara). He became widely popular in his country, and worked on over 20 Egyptian films before moving to Europe and making his mark in English-language cinema with an arresting performance in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Before the end of the decade, he had established his presence with his portrayal of the title character in Doctor Zhivago (1965) and the romantic lead in Funny Girl (1968).
Sharif’s charisma and ‘exotic’ looks got him plenty of appreciation and attention – Pauline Kael once called him “a walking love scene” – and film offers continued to pour in. In the years that followed, Sharif played a range of varied characters of diverse nationalities and kept up a steady flow of films in what would become a long and prolific career. In 2003, following a period with few highlights, Sharif’s career saw a resurgence in the form of Monsieur Ibrahim, a French film about the friendship between an elderly Muslim shopkeeper and a young Jewish boy in Paris. The film not only won several nominations and awards, but also renewed Sharif’s own enthusiasm towards his acting career.
Sharif’s final addition to his body of work spanning over six decades will be a short, partially animated film titled 1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham. The film, which is about the life and work of an 11th century Arab scientist, was of great personal interest to Sharif, who studied physics before beginning his career in cinema. It will be released posthumously later in 2015.
Though Sharif is still best remembered for his roles in Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, his steady work , intriguing personal life, and brazen yet charming personality ensured that the charisma and presence with which he entered the film industry persisted until the very end.
– The Guardian’s obituary to Sharif.
– A compilation of quotes by Sharif and some of the key dates in his life.
– A personal post about Sharif’s status as an icon in the Middle East.
– An article from 2003 with numerous reflections by Sharif on his career and legacy.