Childhood & Early Life
Originally named Michel Dimitri, Omar Sharif was born on April 10, 1932 in Alexandria, Egypt to Joseph Chalhoub and Claire Saada. His father was a precious wood merchant while his mother was a noted society hostess.
He belonged to the Syria-Lebanese 'Antiochian' Greek Catholics of Egypt and was of Melkite Catholic descent.
He started showing his talent for languages right from his college days while studying at Victoria College, Cairo. Later, he secured a graduation degree in mathematics and physics from Cairo University.
After graduating, he joined his father’s business but soon moved out to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
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Omar Sharif started his acting career with ‘Shaytan Al-Sahra’ (also called ‘Devil of the Desert’) in 1954. In the same year, he appeared in the role of Ahmed in another movie, ‘Sira` Fi al-Wadi’ (also called ‘Struggle in the Valley’).
From 1955 to 1957, he appeared in movies like ‘Ayyamna al-Holwa’, ‘La Châtelaine du Liban’, ‘Sira` Fi al-Mina’, and ‘Ard al-Salam’.
His popularity gradually rose to stardom, and he appeared in the Egyptian production ‘La Anam’ (‘Sleepless’) in 1958. In the same year, he appeared in the French production, ‘Goha’ and two other movies, ‘Shatie el asrar’ (‘Beach of Secrets’) and ‘Ghaltet habibi’ (‘My Lover’s Fault’).
In 1959, he performed in quite a good number of movies like ‘Siraa fil Nil’ (‘Struggle on the Nile’), ‘Sayyidat al-Qasr’ (‘Lady of the Palace’), ‘Min ajal emraa’ (‘For a Woman’), ‘Maweed maa maghoul’ (‘An Appointment with the Unknown’), and ‘Fadiha fil Zamalek’ (‘Scandal in Zamalek’).
After working in some Arab-speaking movies for the next two years, Omar Sharif got his first chance in the English historical epic ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in 1962. David Lean, the director of the epic, insisted on having Sharif in the movie though he was not a known face outside Egypt. Lean insisted that ethnic actors would make the film more authentic and rightly, Sharif’s role proved to be one of the most demanding supporting roles in the history of Hollywood.
In 1964, Omar Sharif appeared in Fred Zinnemann’s ‘Behold a Pale Horse’. Zinnemann offer him the role after the suggestion of Lean. In the same year, Sharif appeared as a wartime patriot in the movie ‘The Yellow Rolls-Royce.’
He got a chance to work with Lean again in 1965 in the movie, ‘Doctor Zhivago’. The movie had Julie Christie as the main actress and was based on the Russian Revolution. Other films of this year include ‘Genghis Khan’, ‘Marco the Magnificent’, and ‘El Mamalik’.
He received applauds for his portrayal of Prince Rodrigo Fernandez in the movie ‘More Than a Miracle’ (1967) and for his performance as Streisand’s gambler-husband in ‘Funny Girl’ (1968).
He reprised his role in ‘The Funny Girl’ in it sequel ‘The Funny Lady’ (1975). He displayed some of his best performances in movies like ‘Mackenna’s Gold’ (1969), ‘Juggernaut’ (1974), and ‘The Tamarind Seed’ (1974).
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In the later part of his career, he acted in movies like ‘The Pink Panther Strkes Again’ (1976), ‘The Baltimore Bullet’ (1980), ‘War in the Land of Egypt’ (1991), ‘The 13th Warrior’ (1999), ‘The Parole Officer (2001), etc.
His role in ‘Monsieur Ibrahim’ (2003) as a Muslim Turkish merchant, who is a father figure to a Jewish boy, won him the prestigious César Award for Best Actor.
His last role was in the movie ‘1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham’, in 2015.
He also acted in some TV series like ‘The Mysterious Island’ (1973), ‘Peter the Great’ (1986), ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ (1996), ‘Imperium: Saint Peter’ (2005), and ‘The Last Templar’ (2008).
The most notable role in the career of Omar Sharif was that of Serif Ali in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Directed by David Lean, the movie was a turning point in Sharif’s career and brought him numerous awards and huge recognition.
His performance in the movie ‘Doctor Zhivago’ won him critical and commercial success.
His performance in the movie ‘Monsieur Ibrahim’ in which he played the role of an elderly Turkish shopkeeper was also highly appreciated.
Awards & Achievements
Omar Sharif’s performance in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962) won him the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture and also the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor. He was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
He bagged the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his role in ‘Doctor Zhivago’ (1965).
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He won the prestigious ‘César Award for Best Actor’ for his performance in ‘Monsieur Ibrahim’ (2003).
In 2005, he was honored with the Sergei Eisenstein Medal by UNESCO for his contributions to world film and cultural diversity.
Personal Life & Legacy
Omar Sharif lived in Egypt till 1965 and then moved to Europe. Though his father did not have prosperous business in the beginning, gradually it flourished. King Farouk often visited his house and befriended Sharif’s mother as card-game partner. After 1952, as wealth changed hands in Egypt under Nasser’s policies, his father’s business too had a decline.
In 1954, Omar Sharif met actress, Faten Hamma, during the shooting of the movie ‘Struggle in the Valley’. Both fell in love and married in 1955 after Sharif converted to Muslim. The couple had a son, Tarek Sharif, born in 1957.
Omar and Faten legally divorced in 1974 after living separately for eight years. The main reason for their separation is cited to be his prolonged time away from Egypt due to the Nasser government-imposed travel restrictions.
He was linked to the actress Barbra Streisand. This relationship almost cost him his Egyptian citizenship.
In 1992, he had a triple heart bypass. In May 2015, it was revealed that Sharif suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
He passed away on July 10, 2015, after suffering a heart attack. He is survived by his son and two grandsons.
At one time, he was one of the world’s top contract bridge players. In 1992, he licensed his name to the computer game ‘Omar Sharif Bridge’.
Until his heart bypass in 1992, Sharif used to smoke 100 cigarettes in a day. However, soon after the operation, he quit cigarettes.
He spoke English, French, Arabic, Italian, and Spanish fluently and was a horse-racing enthusiast.