Charismatic Hollywood Actor and renowned Bridge player Omar Sharif has sadly died at the age of 83. The Egyptian actor, best known for roles in Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, suffered a heart attack in Cairo on Friday 10 July 2015. Sharif was born Michel Chalhoub in Alexandria, the son of well-to-do Lebanese-Syrian Christians, Claire (nee Saada) and Joseph Chalhoub, and educated at a private school and at Cairo University. He worked briefly in his father’s lumber business but went into acting when director offered him a role in the film Struggle in the Valley (1954). His co-star Youssef Chahine, later became his wife, In a marriage which lasted for 20 years and they had a son Tarek, who made a brief appearance in Doctor Zhivago in the guise of Yuri Zhivago’s childhood self. Sharif became established as a principal figure in Egyptian cinema appearing in over 20 Egyptian films, he also starred in the French-backed Goha (1958), which afforded him wider recognition, in the arthouses.
His acting breakthrough came when he was cast by the producer Sam Spiegel and director David Lean to play Arab Chieftain Sharif Ali in David Lean’s epic film Lawrence of Arabia and was introduced to the international screen in one of the most dramatic star entrances of film history a daringly protracted sequence, in which Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) first makes contact with the Arab chieftain Sherif Ali (Sharif), who goes from being a speck on the horizon into a towering, huge horseman. The role of Sherif Ali was pivotal in the film’s dramatic scheme, and Sharif’s swarthy, romantic aura was played off to great effect against the blue-eyed blondness of O’Toole’s Lawrence. The two became close friends while making the film. Sharif’s performance won him Golden Globe awards as best supporting actor and most promising newcomer, as well as an Academy Award nomination,
Thanks to Lawrence of Arabia He soon became a major Hollywood player and followed his breakthrough performance with roles in Behold a Pale Horse alongside Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn, Fluent in English and French, he worked steadily for the next few years as an All-purpose foreigner. He played the title role in the 1965 epic Genghis Khan, and in 1965 he reunited with Lean to star in Doctor Zhivago, which earned him another Golden Globe. Sharif also starred as shady Gambler Nicky Arnstein alongside Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and its sequel, Funny Lady. He also played a Spanish priest in Behold a Pale Horse (1964), and a Yugoslav partisan in The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), and even, a little later, a Nazi officer, complete with blond-streaked hair, in The Night of the Generals (1967). But it was as the Russian hero of Lean’s Doctor Zhivago that he achieved his best-remembered screen role, a brooding, magnetic presence.
He also starred alongside Ava Gardner, in Mayerling (1968), in which he portrayed the doomed Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. He also starred In Che! (1969), The Last Valley (1971), The Horsemen (1971) and The Burglars (1971) and was cast opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo, as a stereotypical scheming villain, then In 1974 he portrayed the captain of a stricken cruise liner in Juggernaut and in 1975 he reprised the role of Arnstein in the Funny Girl sequel, Funny Lady. his last role was in 2013 drama Rock the Casbah. He has one film still to be released: a short called 1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham.
Off-screen he led an eventful life too, and Sharif became associated with the game of bridge than with acting. Though he took it up in adult life, he developed into a world-class player. In addition to competing in international tournaments, he wrote a syndicated column on the subject for several years for the Chicago Tribune, was the author of several books on bridge, and licensed his name to a bridge computer game. He was also an inveterate high-stakes gambler, a regular at the casinos of Paris and elsewhere, and at the racetrack in Deauville. He was often overtaken by his own success, to the extent that in order to service the debts incurred by gambling and a playboy lifestyle, he entered a downward spiral into trivial and meretricious movies. His lavish lifestyle encompassed heavy drinking and smoking more than 50 cigarettes a day, at least until he underwent heart bypass surgery in 1993. And the cost was high in financial terms as well. Throughout the 2000’s he drifted from one minor role to the next in a run of TV movies, mini-series, and costume dramas until In 2003 he portrayed an elderly Turkish Muslim shopkeeper in the French movie Monsieur Ibrahim, which earned him a best actor César award, the French equivalent of an Oscar.
His private life was also littered with controversial moments. In 2003 the star was given a one-month suspended prison sentence and a €1,500 fine for head-butting a policeman in a Parisian casino. In 2005 he was ordered to attend anger management classes and served two years probation after assaulting a Beverly Hills parking valet and was caught on video in 2011, apparently slapping a journalist at the Doha international film festival. In 2006 he abandoned gambling and bridge in favour of family life, and described himself as semi-retired from the screen.In 2005 he received a Unesco medal in recognition of his contributions to world cinema and cultural diversity. Lawrence and Zhivago are still rightly regarded as classics and Sharif’s reputation remained undimmed. He is survived by his son and two grandsons.