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The unforgettable Omar Sharif
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 18 - 08 - 2015

Sixty photos of Doctor Zhivago are on display at the Pharaonic Village, many of them rare prints being shown for the first time. They were donated for the purpose by Sharif's only son Tarek, together with memorabilia and personal belongings that, it is planned, will be added to the show by the end of August to remain on display for a year.
According to the Head of the Pharaonic Village Abdel-Salam Ragab, “I felt the exhibition was a necessity for two reasons: first, because media coverage of the death of Omar Sharif and his life story, filmography and the crucial role he played in presenting Egypt abroad wasn't sufficient; and, secondly, because we were colleagues at Victoria College in Alexandria.”
At the opening, visitors noticed the complete absence of film stars, representatives of the Ministry of Culture or the Artists Syndicate.
The photos on show depict Sharif, who died on 10 July at 83, with such Hollywood stars as Barbra Streisand and Sophia Loren as well as Egyptian film icons like Abdel-Halim Hafez, Roshdi Abaza and Ahmed Ramzi. There are also posters of some of his best known films, tracing a rich and winding journey in time and art.
Perhaps still best known for the David Lean roles that made his name internationally – he played first Sharif Ali opposite Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and then the title role in Doctor Zhivago (1965) – Omar Sharif was born Michel Demitri Shalhoub on 10 April 1932 in Alexandria, to Melkite Catholic parents of Lebanese origins: Joseph Shalhoub, a wood merchant, and Claire Saada. After Victoria College, he got his degree in mathematics and physics from Cairo University and entered the family business.
Sharif made his name in Egypt before moving onto Hollywood, where he earned a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for Lawrence of Arabia. In 1954 he made his debut in Youssef Chahine's Siraa Fil Wadi (Struggle in the Valley), opposite the future Lady of the Arab Screen Faten Hamama, whom he married in 1955. Together, they starred in a number of landmark Egyptian movies. Their son Tarek was born in 1957 and they were divorced in 1974. It was rumoured that the divorce was due to her refusing to leave the country and live abroad with him.
“I left her because I did not want to betray her,” Sharif is known to have said, calling her his first and last love. He was never married again.
In the 1960s, Sharif developed a reputation for being one of the world's best bridge players. In the 1970s and 1980s, he co-wrote a syndicated newspaper bridge column for the Chicago Tribune. He also wrote several books on bridge and licensed his name to a bridge computer game, Omar Sharif Bridge, which was released in 1992.
In 2006, however, he told the press he no longer played. “I decided I no longer wanted to be a slave to any passion except my work. I've had too many passions: bridge, horses, gambling. I want to live a different kind of life now, to be with my family more because I didn't give them enough time.”
He had made a strong comeback in 2003 playing an elderly Muslim shopkeeper in Monsieur Ibrahim et Les Fleurs du Coran, for which he won the Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival and the Best Actor César Award in France.
***
As the photos bear oblique testimony, women played a vital role in Sharif's life. “I do not deny that I fell in love with the stars of my films for some time, such as Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, Barbra Streisand and Anouk Aimé,” he once said. “But this was just infatuation.”
Sharif and Streisand starred in several films together, the most famous being Funny Girl in 1968. “I will never forget how she stood by me when there were objections to me starring in the film because I was an Egyptian and Egypt was at war with Israel,” he explained. “She had an attractive personality. We had a secret love story for just four months.”
Julie Andrews was the actress who starred with Sharif most often, and there were rumours of him having an affair with Bergman following their appearance in The Yellow Rolls-Royce in 1964. He said he fell in love with Anouk Aimée while shooting The Appointment: “I wanted to marry her, but I preferred my independence.” But it was of Sophia Loren, with whom he worked in More than a Miracle in 1967, that he make the most memorable remark:
“She had the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen in my life. I thought she was a snob at the beginning, but found out that she was very modest. I also thought she was taller than me, which made me buy high shoes so that I did not look shorter than her in The Fall of the Roman Empire...”
Filmography
The Traveller (2009)
Hassan and Morcos (2008)
10,000 B.C (2008)
The Crown Prince (2006)
One Night with the King (2006)
Fuoco Su Di Me (2005)
Hidalgo (2004)
Monsieur Ibrahim (2003)
The Parole Officer (2001)
The 13th Warrior (1999)
Mysteries of Egypt (1998)
Heaven Before I Die (1997)
Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt (1996)
588 Rue Paradis (1992)
Tengoku No Taizai (1992)
Beyond Justice (1992)
Al Moaten Al Myssri (1991)
Mayrig (1991)
Viaggio d'amore (1990)
The Rainbow Thief (1990)
Les Pyramides bleues (1988)
Les Possedes (1988)
Top Secret! (1984)
Ayoub (1984)
Return to Eden (1983)
Green Ice (1981)
The Baltimore Bullet (1980)
Oh Heavenly Dog (1980)
Bloodline (1979)
Ashanti (1979)
Crime and Passion (1975)
Funny Lady (1975)
Juggernaut (1974)
The Tamarind Seed (1974)
L' Ile Mysterieuse (1973)
Le Casse (1971)
The Last Valley (1971)
The Horsemen (1970)
MacKenna's Gold (1969)
Che! (1969)
The Appointment (1969)
Mayerling (1968)
Funny Girl (1968)
Cinderella - Italian Style (1967)
The Night of the Generals (1967)
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Genghis Khan (1965)
Marco the Magnificent (1965)
The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964)
The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
Behold a Pale Horse (1964)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
A Man in Our House, River of Love (1961)
Struggle in the Valley (1954)


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