POSTED July 10 2015

Salaam alaikum, Omar Sharif 1932–2015

Omar Sharif as Yuri Zhivago

Omar Sharif as Yuri Zhivago

Born Michel Chalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, Sharif took his stage name because “Sharif” means “noble” in Arabic. Of Greek, Syrian and Lebanese descent, the wide-eyed actor was well-educated (in graduate school at the University of Cairo, he studied Physics), fluent in many languages and eloquent in them all. He was a breathtaking specimen of manhood, with the courtly posture of royalty and ears pricked to take in the all that surrounded him. Was it ironic that the man blessed with the most exquisite diction was also the screen’s best listener? One of his fellow undergraduates at Victoria College (where he studied Mathematics) in Alexandria was Youssef Chahine, the great Egyptian filmmaker, who may have persuaded his friend to leave his studies and act in the movies.

A one-man agent of diversity, Sharif embodied Sharif Ali,  the tribesman/intellectual friend of T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, the title role as Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, the Russian doctor and poet Yuri Zhivago in Dr. Zhivago, the Austrian royal Prince Rudolf in Mayerling and the Jewish-American gambler Nicky Arnstein on Funny Girl. Sharif was slated to play Italian-American screen idol Rudolph Valentino, but that project ended up starring Rudolf Nureyev.

Sharif was a world-class bridge player and wrote a weekly syndicated column about it. He once quipped, “I’d rather play bridge than be in a bad movie.” His last role was the title figure in Monsieur Ibrahim (2003), as a modest Muslim shopkeeper in Paris who befriends a young Jewish boy.

I loved watching him. You?

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