Omar Sharif (Arabic: عمر الشريف, ; born Michel Dimitri Chalhoub ; 10 April 1932 - 10 July 2015) was an Egyptian actor. He began his career in his native country in the 1950s, but is best known for his appearances in both British and American productions. His films included Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Funny Girl (1968). He was nominated for an Academy Award. He won three Golden Globe Awards and a César Award.
Sharif, who spoke Arabic, English, French, Spanish and Italian fluently, was often cast as a foreigner of some sort. He bridled at travel restrictions imposed by the government of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, leading to self-exile in Europe. The estrangement led to an amicable divorce from his wife, the iconic Egyptian actress Faten Hamama. He had converted to Islam in order to marry her. He was a lifelong horse racing enthusiast, and at one time ranked among the world's top contract bridge players.
Omar Sharif, whose adopted surname means "noble" or "nobleman", was born as Michel Dimitri Chalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, to a family of Melkite Catholic descent: he belonged to a small ethnocultural minority known as the Damascene 'Antiochian' Greek Catholics of Egypt (Rum Katuleek al Shawamm), an offshoot of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch
His father, Joseph Chalhoub, a precious woods merchant originally from Damascus, Syria, moved to the port city of Alexandria in the early 20th century, where Sharif was later born. His family moved to Cairo when he was four. His mother, Claire Saada originally from Latakia, Syria, was a noted society hostess, and Egypt's King Farouk was a regular visitor prior to his deposition in 1952.
In his youth, Sharif studied at Victoria College, Alexandria, where he showed a talent for languages. He later graduated from Cairo University with a degree in mathematics and physics. He worked for a while in his father's precious wood business before studying acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. In 1955, Sharif changed his name and converted to Islam in order to marry fellow Egyptian actress Faten Hamama.
In 1954, Sharif began his acting career in Egypt with a role in The Blazing Sun (1943). He was also in Shaytan Al-Sahra ("Devil of the Desert"). In the same year he appeared in Sira` Fi al-Wadi ("Struggle in the Valley").
He quickly rose to stardom, appearing in Our Beautiful Days (1955), The Lebanese Mission (1956) (a French film), Struggle in the Pier (1956), Sleepless (1957) ("La Anam]"), Land of Peace (1957), Goha (1958) (a Tunisian film that marked the debut of Claudia Cardinale), Struggle on the Nile (1958), |Lady of the Palace]] (1960), A Beginning and an End (1960), A Rumor of Love (1960), Sayyidat al-Qasr, the Anna Karenina adaptation Nahr el hub ("The River of Love") in 1961 and There is a Man in our House (1961). He and his wife co-starred in several movies as romantic leads.
Sharif's first English-language role was that of (the fictitious) Sherif Ali in David Lean's historical epic Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. Sharif got the role when Dilip Kumar turned it down, Horst Buchholz proved unavailable and Maurice Ronet could not use contact lenses necessary to hide his eyes.
Casting Sharif in what is now considered one of the "most demanding supporting roles in Hollywood history" was both complex and risky as he was virtually unknown at the time outside of Egypt. However, as historian Steven Charles Caton notes, Lean insisted on using ethnic actors when possible to make the film authentic. Sharif would later use his ambiguous ethnicity in other films: "I spoke French, Greek, Italian, Spanish and even Arabic", he said. As Sharif noted, his accent enabled him to "play the role of a foreigner without anyone knowing exactly where I came from", which he stated proved highly successful throughout his career.
To get the role, Sharif had to sign a seven-film contract with Columbia at $50,000 a film.
Sharif went into another Hollywood blockbuster, Samuel Bronston's The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) where he played the support role of Sohaemus of Armenia.
Sharif was third billed in Columbia's Behold a Pale Horse (1964), playing a priest in the Spanish Civil War alongside Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn. Director Fred Zinnemann said he chose Sharif partly on the suggestion of David Lean. "He said he was an absolutely marvelous actor, 'If you possibly can, take a look at him.'" Film historian Richard Schickel wrote that Sharif gave a "truly wonderful performance", especially noteworthy because of his totally different roles in Lawrence of Arabia: "It is hard to believe that the priest and the sheik are played by the same man". The film, like Fall of the Roman Empire, was a commercial disappointment.
Sharif was one of many stars in MGM's The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), playing a Yugoslav wartime patriot; the movie was a hit.
Sharif had his first lead role in a Hollywood movie when he was cast in the title part of Genghis Khan (1965). Produced by Irving Allen and directed by Henry Levin for Columbia, the $4.5 million epic was a box office disappointment. He had a support role in a French Marco Polo biopic, Marco the Magnificent (1965), starring Buchholz and Quinn.
While making Genghis Khan Sharif heard Lean was making an epic love story Doctor Zhivago (1965), an adaptation of Boris Pasternak's 1957 novel. Sharif was a fan of the novel and pitched himself for one of the support roles; Lean decided to cast him in the lead, as Yuri Zhivago, a poet and physician.
Film historian Constantine Santas explained that Lean intended the film to be a poetic portrayal of the period, with large vistas of landscapes combined with a powerful score by Maurice Jarre. He noted that Sharif's role is "passive", his eyes reflecting "reality" which then become "the mirror of reality we ourselves see".
In a commentary on the DVD (2001 edition), Sharif described Lean's style of directing as similar to a general commanding an army. The film was a huge hit. For his performance, Sharif won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama.
Sharif followed it with a cameo in The Poppy Is Also a Flower (1966). He, O'Toole and Lawrence producer Sam Spiegel were reunited in The Night of the Generals (1967), playing a German officer in World War Two, his fourth movie for Columbia. The film was not a success. Neither was the Italian-French fairytale More Than a Miracle (1967), despite co-starring Sophia Loren.
Sharif was also praised for his portrayal of Nicky Arnstein in Funny Girl (1968), at Columbia. He portrayed the husband of Fanny Brice, played by Barbra Streisand in her first film role. His decision to work alongside Streisand angered Egypt's government because she was Jewish, and the country condemned the film. It was also "immediately banned" in numerous Arab nations. Streisand herself jokingly responded, "You think Cairo was upset? You should've seen the letter I got from my Aunt Rose!" Sharif and Streisand became romantically involved during the filming.
He admitted later that he did not find Streisand attractive at first, but her appeal soon overwhelmed him: "About a week from the moment I met her" he recalled, "I was madly in love with her. I thought she was the most gorgeous girl I'd ever seen in my life...I found her physically beautiful, and I started lusting after this woman."
Sharif co-starred with Catherine Deneuve in Mayerling (1968), playing Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria.
He was reunited with Peck in a Western at Columbia, Mackenna's Gold (1969), an unsuccessful attempt to repeat the success of The Guns of Navarone (1961). At 20th Century Fox he played Che Guevera in Che! which flopped.
The Appointment (1969) teamed Sharif with Anouk Aimée and director Sidney Lumet but was not a hit. James Clavell's The Last Valley (1971) was a huge flop, despite co-starring Michael Caine.
The Horsemen (1971), directed by John Frankenheimer and the last movie under his Columbia contract, also performed poorly at the box office.
Sharif later said, "What killed my career was appearing in a succession of films you wouldn't turn down. They were by good directors, but they were bad films." He specifically referenced Behold a Pale Horse, The Appointment and The Horseman.
Sharif played Captain Nemo for European TV in an adaptation of Mysterious Island (1973).
Sharif reprised the role of Nick Arnstein in the sequel to Funny Girl, Funny Lady in 1975. He starred in a West German thriller Crime and Passion (1976) and had a cameo in Edwards' The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976).
Sharif had a small role in Ashanti (1979), starring Caine and a bigger one in Bloodline (1979).
"I lost money on gambling, buying horses, things like that," he later said. "So I made those movies which I knew were rubbish... I'd call my agent and tell him to accept any part, just to bail myself out."
Sharif had a lead part in a spy spoof, S*H*E (1980) and was second-billed (after James Coburn) in The Baltimore Bullet (1980). He had support parts in a Chevy Chase comedy Oh! Heavenly Dog (1981) and a Ryan O'Neal thriller Green Ice (1981), and a small role in the comedy Top Secret! (1984).
Sharif worked steadily in television, appearing in Peter the Great (1986), and Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986) (as Nicholas II of Russia). He had support parts in Grand Larceny (1987) and The Possessed (1988). His first notable credit in a while was Mountains of the Moon (1990) but Sharif's part was only small.
Sharif was reunited with O'Toole a third time in The Rainbow Thief (1990). He went to Egypt for War in the Land of Egypt (1991) and France for Mayrig (1991) with Claudia Cardinale, an autobiographical tale for Henri Verneuil. The latter was popular enough for a sequel, 588 rue paradis (1992).
Sharif could also be seen in Memories of Midnight (1991), Beyond Justice (1992), Catherine the Great (as Alexei Razumovsky), Gulliver's Travels (1996), Heaven Before I Die (1997), and Mysteries of Egypt (1998).
He had his first decent role in a big Hollywood film in a long time with The 13th Warrior (1999). The outcome of the film's production disappointed Sharif so much that he temporarily retired from film acting, not taking a role in another major film until 2003's Monsieur Ibrahim:
Sharif did have a small role in The Parole Officer (2001). In 2003 he said, "I went 25 years without making a good film."
In 2003, Sharif received acclaim for his leading role in Monsieur Ibrahim, a French-language film adaptation of the novel Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran, as a Muslim Turkish merchant who becomes a father figure for a Jewish boy. For this performance, Sharif received the César Award for Best Actor.
Sharif said of the film:
It has nice big chunks of dialogue, which is what I like to do, rather than riding horses or camels. I'd turned down everything and stopped working for four years. I said, 'I'm going to stop doing that rubbish and keep some dignity.' But when I read the script for 'Monsieur Ibrahim,' I phoned the producers immediately. I said, 'Hang on, I'm coming, wait for me.' My problem is finding parts. When you're young and successful, they write or adapt parts for you. But when you're an old chap, let's be frank, you don't sell tickets anymore. If they need an old Englishman, American or Italian, there are plenty of actors around. So what's open for me? Old Arabs. And that's what I play in this film.
Sharif's later film roles included performances in Hidalgo (2004), Imperium: Saint Peter (2005) playing the title role for Italian television, and One Night with the King (2005) (again with O'Toole).
Sharif could be seen in The Ten Commandments (2006).
In Egypt he starred in Hassan and Marcus (2008) with Adel Emam' and was in The Traveller (2009). He had support roles in The Last Templar (2009) and Rock the Casbah (2013).
Sharif's final role was as lead actor in the short science education film 1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham, which was directed by Ahmed Salim and was released as part of the United Nations' International Year of Light campaign, operated by UNESCO.
Sharif once ranked among the world's top 50 contract bridge players, and played in an exhibition match before the Shah of Iran. With Charles Goren, Sharif co-wrote a syndicated newspaper bridge column for the Chicago Tribune for several years, but mostly turned over the writing of the column to Tannah Hirsch. He was also both author and co-author of several books on bridge and licensed his name to a bridge video game; initially released in an MS-DOS version and Amiga version in 1992, Omar Sharif on Bridge is still sold in Windows and mobile platform versions. Computer Gaming World in 1992 described the game as "easy to get into, challenging to play and well-designed", and named it one of the year's best strategy games. In 1993 the magazine stated that "it does not play a very good game of bridge", however, and criticized it for inadequate documentation and forcing players to conform to its bidding style. The magazine recommended two other bridge games instead.
Sharif was a regular in casinos in France.
Sharif lived in Egypt from his 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 home, 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".
In 1954, Sharif starred in the film Struggle in the Valley opposite his wife, who shared a kiss with him, although she had previously refused to kiss on screen. The two fell in love; Sharif converted to Islam and married her. They had one son, Tarek Sharif, born in 1957 in Egypt, who appeared in Doctor Zhivago as Yuri at the age of eight. The couple separated in 1966 and their marriage ended in divorce in 1974. Sharif never remarried; he stated that after his divorce he never fell in love with another woman again.
The Nasser government imposed travel restrictions in the form of "exit visas", so Sharif's travel to take part in international films was sometimes impeded, something he found to be intolerable. These restrictions influenced Sharif's decision to remain in Europe between his film shoots, a decision that cost him his marriage, though the couple remained friends. It was a major crossroads in Sharif's life and changed him from an established family man to a committed 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 Streisand was made public in the Egyptian press, his Egyptian citizenship was almost withdrawn by the Egyptian government because of Streisand's being Jewish and vocal support of Israel, which was then in a state of war with Egypt.
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 19 July 2008 edition of BBC Radio's Test Match Special that Sharif supported Hull City Association Football Club and in the 1970s he 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 he used the occasion to meet Hull City football player Ken Wagstaff. Sharif also had an interest in horse racing spanning more than 50 years. He was often seen at French racecourses, with Deauville-La Touques Racecourse being his favourite. Sharif's horses won a number of important races and he had his best successes with Don Bosco, who won the Prix Gontaut-Biron, Prix Perth and Prix du Muguet. He also wrote for a French horse racing magazine.
In later life, Sharif lived mostly in Cairo with his family. In addition to his son, he had two grandsons, Omar (born 1983 in Montreal) and Karim. The younger Omar Sharif is also an actor.
Sharif had a triple heart bypass in 1992 and suffered a mild heart attack in 1994. Until his bypass, Sharif smoked 100 cigarettes a day. He quit smoking after the operation.
In May 2015 it was reported that Sharif was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. His son Tarek Sharif said that his father was becoming confused when remembering some of the biggest films of his career; he would mix up the names of his best-known films, Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, often forgetting where they were filmed.
On 10 July 2015, less than six months after his ex-wife's death at the same age, Sharif died after suffering a heart attack at a hospital in Cairo.
On 12 July 2015, Sharif's funeral was held at the Grand Mosque of Mushir Tantawi in eastern Cairo. The funeral was attended by a group of Sharif's relatives, friends and Egyptian actors, his coffin draped in the Egyptian flag and a black shroud. His coffin was later taken to the El-Sayeda Nafisa cemetery in southern Cairo, where he was buried.
At the 35th Academy Awards, Sharif was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia but lost to Ed Begley. He won two Golden Globe awards in the same year for his role. In 1966, He won a third Golden Globe award for the titular role in the film Doctor Zhivago. In November 2005, Sharif was awarded the inaugural Sergei Eisenstein Medal by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in recognition of his significant contributions to world film and cultural diversity. The medal, which is awarded very infrequently, is named after Russian director Sergei Eisenstein. Only 25 have been struck, as determined by the agreement between UNESCO, Russia's Mosfilm and the Vivat Foundation.
|1954||Shaytan al-Sahra||Known as Devil of the Sahara|
|Sira` Fi al-Wadi||Ahmed||Also known as The Blazing Sun or Struggle in the Valley or Fight in the Valley|
|1955||Ayyamna al-Holwa||Ahmed||Also known as Our Best Days|
|1956||La Châtelaine du Liban||Mokrir||Also known as The Lebanese Mission; credited as Omar Cherif|
|Sira` Fi al-Mina||Ragab||Also known as A Fight Within the Port|
|1957||La Anam||Aziz||Also known as Sleepless and No Tomorrow|
|Ard al-Salam||Ahmed||Known as Land of Peace|
|1958||Goha||Goha||Credited as Omar Cherif|
|Shatie el asrar||Mamdoh||Beach of Secrets|
|Ghaltet habibi||Salah||My Lover's Fault|
|1959||Siraa fil Nil||Muhassab||Struggle on the Nile|
|Sayyidat al-Qasr||Adel||Lady of the Palace|
|Min ajal emraa||Shokri||For A Woman|
|Maweed maa maghoul||Madgi||An Appointment With The Unknown|
|Fadiha fil Zamalek||Ahmed||Scandel in Zamalek|
|1960||Nahna el talamiza||Adel||We Are The Students|
|Lawet el hub||Love Sickness|
|1961||Gharam el assiad||Masters' Love|
|Bidaya wa Nihaya||Hassanien||Also known as A Beginning and an End|
|Esha'a hob||Hussein||A Rumor of Love|
|Nahr al-Hob||Khalid||The River of Love|
|Hobi al-Wahid||My Only Love|
|Fi Baytouna Ragoul||Ibrahim||Also known as في بيتنا رجل A Man in our House|
|1962||Lawrence of Arabia||Sherif Ali||Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year - Actor
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
|1964||The Fall of the Roman Empire||Sohamus|
|Behold a Pale Horse||Francisco|
|The Yellow Rolls-Royce||Davich|
|1965||Genghis Khan||Genghis Khan|
|Marco the Magnificent||Sheik Alla Hou, 'The Desert Wind'|
|Doctor Zhivago||Dr. Yuri Andreyevich Zhivago||Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama|
|1966||The Poppy Is Also a Flower||Dr. Rad|
|1967||The Night of the Generals||Major Grau|
|More Than a Miracle||Prince Rodrigo Fernandez|
|1968||Funny Girl||Nick Arnstein|
|1969||Mackenna's Gold||John Colorado|
|The Appointment||Frenderico Fendi|
|Trois hommes sur un cheval||Un turfiste||Uncredited|
|1971||The Last Valley||Vogel|
|The Burglars||Abel Zacharia||simultaneously shot in French as Le Casse with the same cast|
|1972||Le Droit d'aimer||Pierre|
|1973||The Mysterious Island||Captain Nemo|
|1974||The Tamarind Seed||Feodor Sverdlov|
|Juggernaut||Captain Alex Brunel|
|1975||Funny Lady||Nicky Arnstein|
|1976||Ace Up My Sleeve||Andre Ferren||also known as Crime and Passion|
|The Pink Panther Strikes Again||Egyptian Assassin||Cameo, Uncredited|
|1979||Ashanti: Land of No Mercy||Prince Hassan|
|1980||S*H*E||Baron Cesare Magnasco||S*H*E: Security Hazards Expert|
|The Baltimore Bullet||The Deacon|
|Oh! Heavenly Dog||Bart|
|1981||Green Ice||Meno Argenti|
|Inchon||Indian officer||Cameo, Uncredited|
|1984||Top Secret!||Agent Cedric|
|1987||Grand Larceny||Rashid Saud|
|1988||The Possessed||Stepan||Les Possédés|
|Les Pyramides bleues (fr)||Alex||The Novice|
|Keys to Freedom||Jonathan|
|1989||Al-aragoz||Mohamed Gad El Kareem||The Puppeteer|
|1990||Mountains of the Moon||Arab chief in Cairo||Uncredited|
|The Rainbow Thief||Dima|
|1991||War in the Land of Egypt||Known as El Mowaten Masri or An Egyptian Citizen|
|1992||588 rue paradis||Hagop||Mother|
|Beyond Justice||Emir Beni-Zair|
|Tengoku no Taizai||Tsai Mang Hua|
|1993||Dehk we le'b we gad we hob||Laughter, Games, Seriousness and Love|
|1997||Heaven Before I Die||Khalil Gibran|
|1998||Mysteries of Egypt||Grandfather||Documentary|
|1999||The 13th Warrior||Melchisideck|
|The Parole Officer||Victor|
|2003||Monsieur Ibrahim||Monsieur Ibrahim||César Award for Best Actor|
|2006||Fuoco su di me||Principe Nicola|
|One Night with the King||Prince Memucan|
|Hassan & Marcus||Hassan / Morcus||Hassan wa Morcus|
|2009||The Traveller||Older Hassan||Commonly known as Al Mosafer|
|J'ai oublié de te dire||Jaume||I forgot to Tell You|
|2013||A Castle in Italy||Himself|
|Rock the Casbah||Moulay Hassan|
|2015||1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham||Grandfather||film lead role, (final film role)|
|1973||The Mysterious Island||Captain Nemo||TV miniseries; also known as L'Ile Mysterieuse|
|1984||The Far Pavilions||Koda Dad||TV miniseries, based on The Far Pavilions|
|1985||Vicious Circle||Joseph Garcin||TV play|
|1986||Peter the Great||Prince Feodor Romodanovsky||TV miniseries|
|Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna||Czar Nicholas II||TV miniseries|
|1991||Memories of Midnight||Constantin Demiris||TV movie|
|1992||Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris||Marquis Hippolite||TV Movie|
|1995||Catherine the Great||Razumovsky||TV movie|
|1996||Gulliver's Travels||The Sorcerer||TV miniseries|
|2001||Shaka Zulu: The Citadel||The King||TV movie|
|2005||Imperium: Saint Peter||Saint Peter||TV movie|
|2006||The Ten Commandments||Jethro||TV miniseries|
|2007||Hanan W Haneen||Raouf||Egyptian TV series, also known as Tenderness and Nostalgia|
|2008||The Last Templar||Konstantine||TV series|