(April 10, 1932 – July 10, 2015)
Omar Sharif born Michel Demitri Chalhoub, also credited as Omar Cherif, was an Egyptian actor. The assumed surname Sharif means “noble” in Arabic. His films included Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Funny Girl (1968). He was nominated for an Academy Award and won three Golden Globe Awards and a César Award.
Sharif lived in his native Egypt from birth in 1932 until he moved to Europe in 1965. He recounted that, in 1932, his father “wasn’t a wealthy man”, but “earned quite a bit of money”. Before the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, King Farouk frequented Sharif’s family’s house, and became a friend and card-game partner of Sharif’s mother. His mother was an elegant and charming hostess who was all too delighted with the association because it gave her the privilege of “consorting only with the elite” of Egyptian society. Sharif also recounted that his father’s timber business was very successful during that time, in ways that Sharif describes as dishonest or immoral.
By contrast, after 1952, Sharif stated that wealth changed hands in Egypt, under Nasser’s nationalisation policies. His father’s business “took a beating”. Travel restrictions in the form of “exit visas” were required of Egyptians, and his own travel to take part in international films was sometimes impeded, which he could not tolerate. The Nasser government’s travel restrictions influenced Sharif’s decision to remain in Europe between his film shoots, a decision that cost him his marriage to Egyptian film legend Faten Hamama, though they remained friends. It was a major crossroad in Sharif’s life and changed him from an established family man to a lifelong bachelor living in European hotels. When commenting about his fame and life in Hollywood, Sharif said, “It gave me glory, but it gave me loneliness also. And a lot of missing my own land, my own people and my own country.” When Sharif’s affair with Barbra Streisand was made public in the Egyptian press, his Egyptian citizenship was almost withdrawn by the Egyptian Government due to Streisand’s vocal support of Israel, with which Egypt was then in a state of war.
Sharif with Cyrine Abdelnour at the Venice Film Festival in 2009
Omar Sharif in Doha Tribeca Film Festival
In 1954 acclaimed actress Faten Hamama accepted young Sharif as her co-star in the film Struggle in the Valley and shockingly accepted a scene involving a kiss with him, a first in her career. The two fell in love, and Sharif converted to Islam and married her. The couple had one son, Tarek El-Sharif, born 1957 in Egypt, who appeared in Doctor Zhivago as Yuri at the age of eight. They separated in 1966 and the marriage ended in 1974. Sharif never remarried; he stated that since his divorce, he never fell in love with another woman, although he lived abroad for years. Hamama died in 2015.
Sharif became friends with Peter O’Toole during the making of Lawrence of Arabia. They appeared in several other films together and remained close friends. He was also good friends with Egyptologist Zahi Hawass. Actor and friend Tom Courtenay revealed in an interview for the July 19, 2008, edition of BBC Radio’s Test Match Special that Sharif supported Hull City Association Football Club and in the 1970s would telephone their automated scoreline from his home in Paris for score updates. Sharif was given an honorary degree by the University of Hull in 2010 and used the occasion to meet up with Hull City football player Ken Wagstaff.
Sharif lived mostly in Cairo with his family. In addition to his son, he had two grandsons, Omar (born 1983 in Montreal) and Karim. Omar Sharif, Jr. is also an actor. He was most recently known for playfully tussling on stage at the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony with actor Kirk Douglas, who was presenting the award for Best Supporting Actress that evening. Sharif Jr. also generated buzz for coming out as both gay and half-Jewish during the aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, saying he fears for his safety after Islamist parties’ triumph in parliamentary elections.
In August 2003, Sharif received a one-month suspended prison sentence for striking a police officer in a suburban Parisian casino the previous month. He was fined the equivalent of US$1,700. On February 13, 2007, Sharif was “found guilty of assaulting a Beverly Hills parking lot attendant and breaking his nose”.
Doha Tribeca Film Festival
On October 27, 2011, Sharif became annoyed with a woman who was queuing up to have her photo taken with him on the red carpet at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. He struck her, but after a moment he turned and leaned in to pose for a picture with her.
Illness and death
In May 2015 it was reported that Sharif was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and his son claimed he was becoming confused when remembering some of the biggest films of his career. Tarek El-Sharif, the only child of the star’s marriage to ex-wife Faten Hamama, said his 83-year-old father would mix up the names of his best-known films, Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, often forgetting where they were filmed.
On July 10, 2015, at the age of 83, Sharif died after a heart attack at a hospital in Cairo, Egypt