Omar Sharif, the Egyptian-born actor with the dark, soulful eyes who soared to international stardom in movie epics, “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago,” died Friday. He was 83.
Sharif died of a heart attack in a Cairo hospital, his agent, Steve Kenis, and the head of Egypt’s Theatrical Arts Guild, Ashraf Zaki, told The Associated Press. The actor had been suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Sharif was Egypt’s biggest box-office star when director David Lean cast him in 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia.”
His entrance in the movie was stunning. He was first seen in the distance, a speck in the swirling desert sand. As he drew closer, he emerged first as a black figure on a galloping camel, slowly transforming into a handsome figure with a gap-tooth smile.
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The film brought him a supporting-actor Oscar nomination.
Three years later, Sharif demonstrated his versatility, playing the leading role of a doctor-poet who endures decades of Russian history, including the Bolshevik Revolution, surviving on his art and his love for his beloved Lara in “Dr. Zhivago.”
In 2003 he accepted a role in the French film “Monsieur Ibraham, portraying a Muslim shopkeeper in Paris who adopts a Jewish boy. The role won him the Cesar, the French equivalent of the Oscar, and he followed with “Hidalgo,” a lively western starring Viggo Mortensen.
Born Michael Shalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, Sharif was the son of Syrian-Lebanese parents. After working three years at his father’s lumber company, he fulfilled his ambition to become a movie actor, appearing in nearly two dozen Egyptian films under the name Omar el Sharif.
Away from the movies, Sharif was a world-class bridge player who for many years wrote a newspaper column on bridge. He quit the game in later years when he gave up gambling.
Biographical material was written by The Associated Press’ late Hollywood correspondent, Bob Thomas.