Omar Sharif, Star of “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Dr. Zhivago”, Dies of Heart Attack at 83

Photo: Omar Sharif dies aged 83 / Arab World
Photo: Omar Sharif dies aged 83 / Arab World

Omar Sharif, the dashing, Egyptian-born actor who was one of the biggest movie stars in the world in the 1960s, with memorable roles in “Dr. Zhivago,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Funny Girl,” has died. He was 83.

Sharif suffered a heart attack on Friday afternoon in a hospital in Cairo, his agent said.

It was announced in May that he had Alzheimer’s disease.

With the global success of David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” starring Peter O’Toole, in 1962, Sharif became the first Arab actor to achieve worldwide fame, thanks to his charismatic presence in the epic film — and the Oscar nomination he drew because of it.

In its wake he very quickly became a busy Hollywood actor: Sharif made three films in 1964, including “Behold a Pale Horse” and “The Yellow Rolls Royce,” and three in 1965, including his first lead role in an English-language production, as the title character in Lean’s “Dr. Zhivago,” for which he won a Golden Globe.

Thanks to his gentle continental accent and dark but hard-to-place good looks, the actor was not ethnically typecast: In “Behold a Pale Horse” he played a Spaniard, in “Zhivago” a Russian, in “Genghis Khan” a Mongol, in “Funny Girl” a New York Jewish gambler and in “The Night of the Generals,” a German major during WWII.

Nevertheless, there was no little controversy about his role in “Funny Girl”: When 1967’s Six Day War between Israel and Arab countries including Egypt occurred, Columbia execs considered replacing Sharif; later, when a still depicting a love scene between the actor and Barbra Streisand was published, the Egyptian press began a movement to revoke Sharif’s citizenship.

Other significant late-’60s films for the actor included J. Lee Thompson Western “MacKenna’s Gold,” with Gregory Peck and Telly Savalas, and tragic European political love story “Mayerling,” in which Sharif was paired with Catherine Deneuve.

During the 1970s Sharif remained busy, but there were fewer notable projects. Standouts included Blake Edwards thriller “The Tamarind Seed,” with Julie Andrew, and Richard Lester’s thriller “Juggernaut.”

Since the mid-1980s Sharif returned sporadically to Egyptian cinema, where he got his start.

In 2003 Sharif won acclaim for his role in Francois Dupeyron’s “Monsieur Ibrahim” as a Turkish Muslim shop owner who becomes an avuncular figure for a Jewish boy in Paris. Although the role was perceived as representing something of a career resurgence for the actor, he had in fact been working regularly over the previous decades in film and TV and continued to do so after “Ibrahim.”

The same year he starred in the 23-episode French anthology TV series “Petits mythes urbains,” in which he played a mysterious cab driver; he also wrote for the series.

He had a substantial role in 2004’s “Hidalgo,” with Viggo Mortensen, and appeared in ABC’s 2006 “Ten Commandments” miniseries and NBC’s 2009 “The Last Templar” miniseries. On the bigscreen he was the narrator for Roland Emmerich’s “10,000 BC.” He also worked a great deal in film and TV projects not distributed in the U.S.

In 2013 he appeared as himself in Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s “A Castle in Italy.”

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SOURCE: Variety

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