ByKarly Rayner, writer at
Movie Pilot's celebrity savant
Karly Rayner

The Oscar nominated Omar Sharif, best known for his iconic roles in Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, has died of a heart attack aged 83.

The Egypt-born actor won three Golden Globes and a César Award during his illustrious career before eventually retiring from public appearances earlier this year after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Omar Sharif in 2012
Omar Sharif in 2012

Born Michel Shalhoub in Alexandria in April 1932, Sharif began working in his family's lumber business before persuing his dreams of acting and heading to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

He made his cinematic debut in in 1954 Egyptian film Siraa Fil-Wadi (The Blazing Sun) and rapidly became a star in his own country, but it was only when he was cast as Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia that he became a household name worldwide.

Sharif was nominated for an Academy Award and picked up two Golden Globes for the role, although later in life Sharif claimed to be mystified 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.

Three years later, Sharif was met with yet more critical acclaim for his turn depicting a physician caught up in the Russian Revolution in Doctor Zhivago, although he later admitted the movie nearly pushed him to a nervous breakdown partly due to a gruelling routine of extensive skin waxing to hide his Egyptian looks.

Omar Sharif & Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago
Omar Sharif & Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago

After taking on some more notable roles including starring opposite Barbra Streisand in her first film Funny Girl and playing Julie Andrews' lover in the spy-thriller, The Tamarind Seed, Sharif became a big player at the gaming tables as well as in Hollywood.

After becoming one of the top Bridge players in the world (ranking somewhere in the top fifty), Sharif began to take on less and less movie roles and he started actively declined roles in the '90s because he felt he had lost his "self-respect and dignity" for taking on parts he felt were "rubbish."

Sharif still retained his passion for acting though and he reemerged in 2013 for a triumphant return in the French drama Monsieur Ibraham in which he plays a Muslim shopkeeper in Paris who adopts a Jewish boy. The film won him a Cesar, the French equivalent of an Oscar.

Sharif in Monsieur Ibraham
Sharif in Monsieur Ibraham

Earlier this year, the veteran star was sadly diagnosed with Alzeimers disease and his son Sharik told a Spanish newspaper that:

He still knows he's a famous actor. He remembers, for example, [he was in] Doctor Zhivago but he's forgotten when it was filmed.

On Friday July 10, the actors agent Steve Kenis broke the news that he had "suffered a heart attack this afternoon in a hospital in Cairo."

Known as a charming and personable character in Hollywood, Sharif has been mourned by many stars who commended his professionalism and kindness:

Antonia Bandaras

Barbra Streisand

Omar was my first leading man in the movies. He was handsome, sophisticated and charming. He was a proud Egyptian and in some people's eyes, the idea of casting him in Funny Girl was considered controversial. Yet somehow, under the direction of William Wyler, the romantic chemistry between Nicky Arnstein and Fanny Brice transcended stereotypes and prejudice. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Omar, and I'm profoundly sad to hear of his passing

Andie MacDowell

Bo Derek

Rosie O'Donnell

Sir Roger Moore

Luke Goss

Brad Bird

Lou Diamond Phillips

Debra Messing

Scott Foley

Larry King

Sharif is survived by his Son Tarek and his two grandsons, Omar Jr and Karim.

Following the announcement of Sharif's death, his grandson Omar Sharif Jr thanked the public "for the global outpouring of prayers and support" his family had received, adding: "I will miss my grandfather dearly."

(Source: BBC and Wikipedia)


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