11 Jul 2015

Actor Omar Sharif dies in Cairo

7:16 am on 11 July 2015

The actor Omar Sharif, best known for his roles in the classic films Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, has died. He was 83.

no caption

Photo: AFP

Sharif, who was born in Egypt, won two Golden Globe awards and an Oscar nomination for his role as Sherif Ali in David Lean's 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia.

He won another Golden Globe three years later for Doctor Zhivago.

Earlier this year, his agent confirmed he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Sharif died of a heart attack in Cairo.

Sharif was one of the few Arab actors to make it big in Hollywood, and was known for his good looks and bridge-playing prowess.

Fluent in English, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Greek and French, Sharif's most high-profile roles were in the 1960s.

But his big break came when David Lean cast him in Lawrence of Arabia, introducing the actor with a now-legendary shot of him riding a camel out of a shimmering heat haze towards the camera.

 Omar Sharif

Omar Sharif Photo: AFP

Peter O'Toole, who played TE Lawrence in the 1962 multiple Oscar-winner, considered Sharif's name ridiculous and insisted on calling him "Fred". The pair soon became fast friends.

In later life Sharif claimed to be baffled by the film's success, saying it had merely been shots of people on camels walking from one side of the screen to the other.

David Lean went on to cast Sharif in the title role of his next epic Doctor Zhivago, in which he played a physician caught up in the Russian Revolution.

The actor went through a daily routine of hair-straightening and skin-waxing in order to disguise his Egyptian looks and would later admit the film had left him close to a nervous breakdown.

Other notable roles came opposite Barbra Streisand in her first film Funny Girl and as Julie Andrews' lover in spy thriller The Tamarind Seed.

He also got to play a series of real-life figures, among them Genghis Khan and the Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara.

After his initial stint in the spotlight, Sharif would come to be seen more frequently at the gaming tables than the Hollywood soundstage.

He became particularly successful at bridge and was ranked among the world's best players.

His film roles became increasingly sporadic, and those he did accept were in films he would later dismiss as "rubbish".

In the late 1990s Sharif began declining film offers, claiming he had lost his "self-respect and dignity".

The actor made something of a comeback in 2003 in the title role of the French film Monsieur Ibrahim, in which he played an elderly Muslim shopkeeper.

The film won him the Cesar, the French equivalent of the Oscar, as well as some of his best reviews in decades.

Sharif spent much of his later years in Cairo and at the Royal Moncean Hotel in Paris, though he occasionally travelled to Hull to support his favourite football team, Hull City.

The actor, who was introduced to the Tigers by his Doctor Zhivago co-star Sir Tom Courtenay, was given an honorary degree by the University of Hull in 2010 as a reward for his loyalty.

Earlier this year his agent confirmed he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease after his son Tarek gave an interview in which he discussed his father's deteriorating condition.

"He still knows he's a famous actor," Tarek El-Sharif told Spain's El Mundo newspapaer. "He remembers, for example, [he was in] Doctor Zhivago but he's forgotten when it was filmed."

- BBC