Rome— Omar Sharif, 83, a versatile actor and one of movie history’s most global of stars, has died. He made films not only in Egypt but Europe and the United States, where he is best known for roles in Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago and Funny Girl. In many ways, he symbolized an Egypt that is gone forever.
He played the handsome leading man opposite Catherine Deneuve, Barbra Streisand, Julie Andrews, Ingrid Bergman, Julie Christie and Sophia Loren.
His career spans a period of Egyptian pop history that parallels the country’s decline. In the 1950s, he burst onto the screen as a male diva. His big piercing eyes dominating each scene– and the hearts of Egyptian women, including his wife, the beautiful actress Faten Hamama, who died last January. It was a time when Egypt, on screen at least, seemed more carefree, even glamorous. Women wore short sleeve dresses and bikinis; veils were left to peasant characters. Interiors, often art deco, where styulish. Romance, even without Hollywood-style kissing, enthralled audiences. Films had titles like “River of Love” and “Scandal in Zamalek.” Movie houses on Cairo’s Talaat Harb Street were entertainment palaces (now they are run down or closed for conversion into shopping arcades.
I last saw him in 2008, at a Cairo restaurant in the Semiramis Hotel. His eyes were as grand as ever, even if his face was sagging under years of drink, travel and what he described as hotel-life loneliness. He made a movie that year with Adel Imam, the Middle East’s best known comic film actor. The film, “Hassan and Marcus,” portrayed sectarian rivalries between Muslims and Christians. Sharif played a Muslim forced to disguise himself as a Christian while Imam played a Christian who pretended to be Muslim, both to escape religious fanatics.
The extremists that the movie criticized came out of the Egyptian woodwork to attack the film as blasphemous. Imam’s role especially riled Muslims who considered his comic treatment of Islamic practices insulting. That is, unfortunately, the Egypt Sharif leaves behind.
Here’s one of Sharif’s youthful movies, a romance “Agony of Love.”
Especially check it out after 38th minute.
And this is “Hassan and Marcus.”
And a semi-racy bio.