File- Omar Sharif.
CAIRO – 10 April 2020: April 10 marks the 88 th birthday of the late iconic international Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.
On this occassion Egypt Today looks back at some of the milestones that led to his international debut.
Born in Alexandria as Michel Dimitri Chalhoub on April 10, 1932, he was of Lebanese descent, but was born and bred in Egypt. His parents were of good social standards; his father in the wood business and his mother a notable society hostess who often hosted King Farouk to play cards.
Growing up, Sharif easily became multilingual as he was brought up by his French speaking mother and attended an English boarding school and Victoria College; he also became fluent in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.
After graduating from Cairo University with a mathematics and physics degree, he attempted to follow his father’s path of work but quickly receded and went on to London to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Sharif realized his passion for acting at the tender age of 13 when he participated in his English boarding school’s theatre program.
This horrified his father, since it would stop his son from following in his footsteps and becoming a timber merchant. Later, Sharif’s talent overcame all obstacles and he became a world-renowned actor.
The immortal cinematic and romantic couple Sharif and Hamama
In 1954, Sharif starred in “The Desert’s Devil” (Shaytan al-Saharaa), but his break was the same year when he acted in “Struggle in the Valley” (Sira’ Fi al-Waady) alongside his wife, the late great Egyptian actress Faten Hamama.
The love story of Hamama and Sharif began when they worked together in Youssef Chahine’s “Struggle in the Valley.”
Despite being born Catholic, he changed his name and converted to Islam to marry her in 1955. A marriage that lasted for 20 years, the famed couple were the symbol of love to all the Egyptian audience.
They portrayed their love in a number of successful movies that will live on for years after their death; movies that taught us the true meaning of love, such as “Ayamna el Helwa” (Our Beautiful Days), “Nahr El Hob” (River of Love), “ Saydet el Kasr” (The Palace Lady), “Sra’a fe El Mena” (Struggle in the Port), among others.
El Sherif’s international Stardom
He achieved international stardom in 1962 by acting in Lawrence of Arabia alongside Peter O’Toole.
He maintained his status as a foreign heartthrob by leading in films like Dr. Zhivago and Funny Girl, which caused outrage in Egypt due to the romance with his leading co-star, Barbara Streisand, who won an Oscar for her role.
Funny Girl was based on a play with the same title also starring Streisand. This musical comedy drama is a biographic, based on the life of Fanny Brice, a famous female Jewish comedian of the 1900s who dreams of stardom in New York City’s Broadway.
Against all odds she rises to the top and falls for Nick Arnstein, played by Sharif, a businessman and compulsive gambler.
While the 60s were the best and busiest years of Sharif’s acting career, they were the ones which took a toll on his marriage with Hamama, and the couple shocked their fans by getting a divorce in 1974.
A resonating talent
His impeccable acting skills speak for themselves, but his mastery of contract bridge also precedes him. He wrote books on bridge, his favorite card game, and even established the Omar Sharif Bridge Circus.
However, his addiction to gambling eventually caused him money troubles, which led to his acting flops and his downward spiral.
Living alone and with little money, Sharif spent his later days living in hotels in Paris and London until he made a brief comeback with his role in the 2003 French film “Monsieur Ibrahim.”
The film received positive reviews, and Sharid even won the audience award for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival.
Sharif was always keen to support and encourage young talents such as the famed Egyptian actor Mohamed Ramadan, who had a small role in Sharif’s only Egyptian soap opera “Hanan w Hanin” ( Tenderness and Nostalgia).
Ramadan previously announced in a number of TV interviews that Sharif encouraged him a lot and praised his acting talent, predicting at that time that he will be a superstar in the future.
“When I first met Omar Sharif, he greeted me as if I was family. He was someone who really loved people; when he found out that we were [both] Egyptian, we bonded instantly.
The main piece of advice he gave me was to start in Egypt and get that experience under my belt before trying to have a career internationally,” recounted the Egyptian rising international actor Amir El-Masry in an interview with Egypt Today.
Sharif moved back to Egypt to spend his final days while struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. Sharif passed away at the age of 83 due to a heart attack on July 10, 2015. Sharif is a cheerful, handsome, talented and iconic artist who will remain forever alive in the hearts of his audience around the world.