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Friday, July 10, 2015

Omar Sharif, 83, a Star in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Doctor Zhivago,’ Dies

Omar Sharif, 83, a Star in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Doctor Zhivago,’ Dies

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Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor who rode out of the desert in the 1962 screen epic “Lawrence of Arabia” into a glamorous if brief reign as an international star in films like “Doctor Zhivago” and “The Night of the Generals,” died on Friday in Cairo. He was 83.
His death, at a hospital, was caused by a heart attack, said his agent, Steve Kenis.
Mr. Sharif — who later became as well known for his mastery of bridge as he was for his acting — was a commanding, darkly handsome presence onscreen. He was multilingual as well, and comfortable in almost any role or cultural setting.
He had appeared in a number of Egyptian films before the British director David Lean added him to the cast of “Lawrence of Arabia,” a freewheeling depiction of the real-life exploits of the British adventurer T. E. Lawrence, who led Arab fighters in a series of battles against Turkish occupiers. Peter O’Toole starred in the title role.

The 1960s proved to be Mr. Sharif’s best, busiest and most visible decade in Hollywood. In quick succession he appeared in “The Fall of the Roman Empire” (1964), as a king of ancient Armenia; “Behold a Pale Horse” (1964), as a priest during the Spanish Civil War; “The Yellow Rolls-Royce” (1965), as a Yugoslav patriot intent on saving his country from the Nazis; “Genghis Khan” (1965), as the conquering Mongol leader; “Doctor Zhivago” (1965), as a Russian physician-poet whose world is torn apart by war; “The Night of the Generals” (1967), as a German intelligence officer; “Funny Girl” (1968), as a shifty gambler, and — in a rare early-career misstep — the critical and box-office disaster “Che!” (1969), as the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, opposite Jack Palance as Fidel Castro.
There were more films to come, but it was Mr. Sharif’s performance in “Doctor Zhivago” that is generally considered the high point of his career. Adapted from the novel by Boris Pasternak, the film was a sweeping portrait of war and rebellion in Czarist Russia. Mr. Sharif, in the role of the sensitive, brooding Zhivago, plunges into a doomed love affair with another man’s wife, played by Julie Christie, as violence engulfs their lives.
World War II was the setting for “The Night of the Generals,” a drama about the Nazi high command in Warsaw that reunited Mr. Sharif and Mr. O’Toole. Mr. Sharif played a junior officer assigned to investigate a trio of generals, one of whom (Mr. O’Toole) has been killing prostitutes.
The involvement, both on and off screen, of Mr. Sharif and Ms. Streisand, a Jewish actress and a visible supporter of Israel, got him in trouble with the Egyptian authorities. Still, Mr. Sharif appeared with Ms. Streisand in a sequel, “Funny Lady,” in 1975, although James Caan as the showman Billy Rose was the romantic lead this time.
Omar Sharif was born Michel Demitri Shalhoub on April 10, 1932, into a well-to-do family in Alexandria, Egypt. He graduated from Cairo University with a degree in mathematics and physics and worked for several years for the lumber company his father ran.
In the early 1950s he decided to capitalize on his good looks and ventured into film acting under the name Omar El-Sharif. He soon had a legion of fans, especially after co-starring with Faten Hamama, one of Egypt’s leading actresses. In 1955 he converted from Catholicism to Islam, and they were married soon after. They had a son, Tarek, who survives him, before separating in 1966 and divorcing in 1974. Ms. Hamama died in January. Further information on survivors was not immediately available.
From The Archives

Eternally Romantic, Thinking of Home

  • An interview with Omar Sharif in The New York Times in 1995.
Mr. Sharif appeared in dozens of movies after the 1960s, but his film career was clearly headed downhill. He liked to gamble, became an aficionado of horse racing and spent more and more time playing competitive bridge. An expert on the game, he wrote a syndicated bridge column and a number of books on the subject, including “Omar Sharif’s Life in Bridge” (1983). His autobiography, “The Eternal Male,” written with Marie-Thérèse Guinchard, was published in 1977.
He was philosophical about the ups and downs of his career. “Look, I had it good and bad,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1995. “I did three films that are classics, which is very rare in itself, and they were all made within five years.”
He attributed his change of film fortune to what he called “the cultural revolution” at the end of the 1960s. “There was a rise of young, talented directors,” he added, “but they were making films about their own societies. There was no more room for a foreigner, so suddenly there were no more parts.”
There were in fact at least a few parts. Mr. Sharif continued to appear in films, many made for television. In “Pleasure Palace,” shown on CBS in 1980, he was a European playboy who comes to Las Vegas for a no-holds-barred gambling duel with a millionaire Texan. In the 1995 A&E film “Catherine the Great,” starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, he was a Russian prince.
His later films included “Monsieur Ibrahim” (2003), set in 1960s Paris, in which he played an aging Muslim grocer who befriends a rudderless Jewish teenager; and “Hidalgo” (2004), as an Arab sheik who invites an American cowboy (Viggo Mortensen) to participate in a survival race across the desert. His most recent film role was in the French family drama “Rock the Casbah” (2013).
In his later years, Mr. Sharif chose his parts carefully. “I decided,” he told The Times in 2003, “that I wanted to keep some dignity in my old age.”
He also insisted that age was no bar to remaining vital.
“My philosophy of life is that I’m living every moment intensely, as if it were the last moment,” he said. “I don’t think of what I did before or what I’m going to do. I think of what I’m doing right now.”
Correction: July 10, 2015
An earlier version of this obituary credited Mr. Sharif incorrectly with one film role. He did not appear in the 2008 movie “War, Inc.”

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