Cinema lost a great actor last month. Internationally famous for his legendary roles in the epic movies Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dr. Zhivago (1965), Omar Sharif epitomized the international super star. Sharif’s ground breaking international silver screen debut in Lawrence of Arabia will always be remembered, as will the film’s protracted sequence where he first appears as a dot on the screen, until he’s finally shown as the full-sized, grand Arab horseman that he was.
While being ethnically true to his character in Lawrence of Arabia, Sharif was often cast as the “foreigner” including an Armenian, a Spaniard, a German, a Russian, a Yugoslavian, and a Cuban. Fluent in five languages, his versatility and artistic finesse allowed him to become an actor without borders; both literally and philosophically. Sharif believed that there was no difference between people of different origin, and he lived that way himself. He was known to say that the language he dreamt in changed depending on the country he was living in. His life personified his philosophy of tolerance; whether it was by playing the role of a Muslim shopkeeper who befriends a Jewish boy (Monsieur Ibrahim, 2003), or engaging in a relationship with pro-Israel Barbara Streisand, who was his co-star in Funny Girl (1968).
Before Sharif won Golden Globe Awards for his roles in Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, as well as an Oscar nomination for Lawrence of Arabia, he was already a star in Arab cinema. He began his acting career playing the leading role in Youssef Chahine’s Siraa’ Fil Wadi (Struggle in the Valley, 1954) that featured Egyptian star Faten Hamama, where their on-screen love affair soon became a reality and they married a year later. However, when his career took him overseas, his marriage with Hamama suffered and they eventually divorced in 1974. Sharif sometimes wondered how different his life would have been had he not chosen to spend years abroad as a Hollywood star. He suspected that he might have prevented the end of his only true love story.
While Sharif had quite the reputation as a gambler and a womanizer, he claimed that not all that was said about him was true, even if he often didn’t bother to deny it. He also admitted that he sometimes made up answers during interviews, so as not to appear boring after being interviewed so frequently. He was a world-class bridge player, but eventually stopped playing after he realized that he had been turning down acting opportunities that conflicted with bridge tournaments. Ironically his bridge passion would also force him to take roles in films he wasn’t convinced of.
After a period of acting in lesser movies just to support himself, he made a comeback with Monsieur Ibrahim. His role in this French movie was a reminder of the earlier prime acting days when he chose the right roles and performed superbly. He won a Cesar, known as the French Oscar, for his performance.
Although Sharif never remarried after Hamama, he said he was never unhappy, despite reports about his life sounding melancholic. It’s almost poetic that he died the same age as Hamama, his one true love, at 83, and just a few months after her own death.
Many celebrities expressed their condolences for Sharif’s death on Twitter. Sir Roger Moore, known for his role as James Bond, said in a tweet, “The wonderful shot of Omar Sharif’s introduction in Lawrence has stayed with me for years. Genius film and terrific actor. He will be missed.” Actor Vincent D’Onofrio, known for his roles in Men in Black, Full Metal Jacket, and the popular television series Law & Order, tweeted, “Omar Sharif will be missed. I have watched this graceful, this wonderful actor since I was a child. I salute him.”
eniGma salutes Omar Sharif, Egypt’s true global star. He was a truly talented actor, a gentleman, a great friend, and a true son of Egypt. Rest in peace. You will never be forgotten.