CAIRO: Actor Omar Sharif, best known for his portrayal of Doctor Zhivago in the hit 1966 film, died of a heart attack on Friday, his agent said. He was 83.
“Omar Sharif died in Cairo of a heart attack sometime this afternoon,” Steve Kenis confirmed when reached by telephone. He also confirmed that Sharif had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Tributes to Sharif were quick to flow on social media. “Good bye to a living legend, good bye to a source of inspiration for generations to come,” said Egyptian actor Khaled El Nabawy on his Twitter feed.
Sharif won international fame and an Oscar-nomination for best supporting actor for his role in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. He later became a huge star in his own right for his portrayal of the title character in the film based on Boris Pasternak’s novel ‘Doctor Zhivago’.
Born Michel Shalhoub on April 10, 1932, to a wealthy family in Alexandria, Sharif became interested in acting while studying mathematics and physics at university in Cairo. He worked in his father’s timber business for several years before realising his dream with a role in an Egyptian movie, ‘The Blazing Sun’, in 1954 opposite the Middle East’s biggest female star, Faten Hamama.
Raised as a Roman Catholic, Sharif converted to Islam and married Hamama in 1955, taking on his new name. They had a son, Tarek, but the couple divorced in 1974. Hamama died in January of this year.
Despite Sharif’s image as an eligible bachelor, he did not remarry, saying he never fell in love with another woman. “I’ve always been extremely lucky in my life,” he told Al Jazeera in 2007, while reflecting on how he ‘might have been happier’ staying in Egypt.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2015.