Lawrence of Arabia Sidekick
“I want to live every moment totally and intensely. Even when I'm giving an interview or talking to people, that's all that I'm thinking about.” Omar Sharif
Egyptian actor Omar Sharif received international recognition in David Lean's epic film "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962; with Peter O'Toole in the title role), portraying Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish, an Arab chieftain and the title role's best friend and right-hand man. His charismatic performance in the film earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He also won two Golden Globe awards, one for Best Supporting Actor and another one for Most Promising Newcomer – Male.
The 5' 10" dashing romantic lead later took home his next Golden Globe after portraying the titular soulful and love-crossed Russian poet and doctor in “Doctor Zhivago” (1965). He is also remembered for portraying Nicky Arnstein, the con-man husband to comedienne Fannie Brice (played by Barbra Streisand) in "Funny Girl" (1968) and “Funny Lady” (1975). On stage, he starred in a revival of Terrence Rattigan's famous play, “The Sleeping Prince” (1988), at the Chichester Festival Theatre in Sussex, England.
"I definitely want to do more theater now. Or, two weeks in a film for a remarkable amount of money." Omar Sharif
Sharif's later work included "The 13th Warrior" (1999), "Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran" (2003; won him Best Actor at the César Awards and Venice Film Festival), "Hidalgo" (2004), and "10,000 B.C.," (2008) in which he serves as the narrator.
An acclaimed and legendary star of more than 60 motion pictures in an extraordinary career spanning over four decades, Sharif was awarded a medal by UNESCO in honor of his significant contribution to world film and cultural diversity in November of 2005.
Besides acting, Sharif was also a world class bridge player and an avid gambler. He had a brush with the law in 2003 when he received a one-month suspended sentence and was fined for head-butting a police officer in a Paris casino. Later, in early 2007, he was ordered by a U.S. court in Beverly Hills, California, to take an anger management course for assaulting a parking lot attendant outside a Beverly Hills restaurant back in 2005.
“My philosophy is that when I go out of my room, I'm prepared to love everybody I meet unless they're bad.” Omar Sharif
Of Lebanese-Egyptian descent, Sharif was raised Roman Catholic, but converted to Islam in 1954 in order to marry his wife, famous Egyptian actress Faten Hamama (born on May 27, 1931), with whom he has one son. They divorced in 1974 after 20 years of marriage.
Childhood and Family:
Born Michael Demitri Shalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, on April 10, 1932, Omar Sharif studied math and physics at Victoria College in Cairo, Egypt, where he also became interested in acting. The son of wealthy Lebanese-Egyptian parents, Joseph Shalhoub (a lumber merchant; died in 1979) and Claire Shalhoub (lives in Spain), Sharif was raised Roman Catholic.
Sharif converted to Islam in 1954 and took the name Omar al-Sharif in order to marry his wife, acclaimed Egyptian actress Faten Hamama (born on May 27, 1931). They have one son, Tarek Sharif (born in 1955; some sources mention he was born in 1957), who appeared in Sharif's film “Doctor Zhivago” (1965) as Yuri at the age of 8. Tarek now lives in Montreal. Sharif and Hamama divorced in 1974 after 20 years of marriage.
“Fidelity is a virtue which should be frequently proved, but not always.” Omar Sharif
In 1992, Sharif, who smoked 100 cigarettes a day, underwent triple bypass surgery and suffered a mild heart attack in 1994. After the surgery, he quit smoking.
Sharif is fluent in Arabic, English, Greek, and French. He also speaks some Italian and Turkish. In August 2003, he received a one-month suspended sentence and a $1700 fine for head-butting a police officer in a suburban Paris casino in July that year. He was also ordered to pay the officer $340 in damages.
"It made me the hero of the whole of France. To head-butt a cop is the dream of every Frenchman." Omar Sharif
Recently, in early 2007, Sharif was ordered by a U.S. court in Beverly Hills, California, to take an anger management course for assaulting a parking lot attendant who refused to accept his European currency outside a Beverly Hills restaurant back in June 2005. Sharif failed to appear for the hearing.
On a more positive note, Sharif, who was nominated for an Academy Award and won two Golden Globe awards, was awarded a medal by UNESCO in November of 2005 in honor of his significant contribution to world film and cultural diversity.
“I love to be with my son and my grandchildren, like normal people. I have no particular idea of what I represent to other people. It's very mysterious to me. I don't understand it.” Omar Sharif
“I had too many big passions in life and it gets in the way of work. You can't concentrate properly on the one thing.” Omar Sharif
After graduating from college, Egypt-born Omar Sharif worked at his father's timber importing business for five years before pursuing an acting career. In 1954, at age 22, he made his film debut in the Egyptian production "Siraa Fil-Wadi" (aka. “The Blazing Sun”), in which he co-starred with soon-to-be wife Faten Hamama.
Sharif married Hamama in 1954 and the couple went on to co-star in a string of films, including the romantic musical "Ayyamine el helwa" (1955; aka. "Our Best Days"), the action film "Siraa Fil-Mina" (1956; aka. "Dark Waters"), the war drama "Ard el salam" (1957; aka. "Land of Peace"), the romantic drama based on Ihsan Abd al-Qudus' famous novel, "La anam" (1958; aka. "No Tomorrow"), the romantic comedy "Sayedat el kasr" (1959; aka. "Lady of the Castle"), and the Arabic remake of Leo Tolstoy's 1935 novel “Anna Karenina,” "Nahr el hub" (1961; aka. "The River of Love").
“Working gets in the way of living.” Omar Sharif
Sharif also starred in a film adaptation of Pierre Benoît's novel, "Châtelaine du Liban, La" (1956; aka. "The Lebanese Mission"), "Shatie el asrar" (1958; aka. "Hidden Shore"), the film version of Albert Adès and A. Josipovici's novels, "Goha" (1958), "Fadiha fil Zamalek" (1959; aka. "Scandal in Zamalek"), "Maweed maa maghoul" (1959; aka. "Rendezvous with a Stranger"), "Min ajal emraa" (1959; aka. "For the Sake of a Woman"), and "Seraa fil Nil" (1959; aka. "Struggle on the Nile." The dark, handsome, multilingual actor also appeared in "Lawet el hub" (1960; aka. "Agony of Love"), the novel-based "Bidaya wa nihaya" (1960; aka. "The Beginning and the End"), the romantic drama "Gharam el assiad" (1961; aka. "I Love My Master"), "Hubbi el wahid" (1961; aka. "My Only Love"), the political drama "Fi baitina rajul" (1961; aka. "A Man in Our House"), and the heart-warming romantic comedy "Ishayat hub" (1961; aka. "The Agony of Love").
“I played all sorts of incredible things having come off on my camel in 'Lawrence of Arabia.' I was then thrust into Russian poets and all sorts of characters.” Omar Sharif
1962 proved to be Sharif's breakout year when he appeared in David Lean's epic film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence, "Lawrence of Arabia," starring Peter O'Toole. Portraying Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish, an Arab chieftain and the title role's best friend and right-hand man, Sharif's solid performance received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He also won two Golden Globe awards, one for Best Supporting Actor and another one for Most Promising Newcomer – Male.
With his new-found international success, Sharif scored an American film contract and appeared in his first U.S. film, "Behold a Pale Horse" (1964), director Fred Zinnemann's take on William Milton Cooper's 1991 book, in which he played a Spaniard opposite Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn. He followed it up with Anthony Mann's epic film "The Fall of the Roman Empire" (1964), playing Sohamus, King of Armenia, alongside Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, and Alec Guinness, and Anthony Asquith's anthology/drama film "The Yellow Rolls-Royce" (1964), opposite Rex Harrison and Jeanne Moreau. He also portrayed the Mongol emperor "Genghis Khan" (1965) in Henry Levin's historical film of the same name.
Sharif was reunited with director David Lean for "Doctor Zhivago" (1965), a drama-romance-war film loosely based on the internationally successful novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak. Sharif starred in the title role of the soulful and love-crossed Russian poet and doctor and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama.
After making his TV-movie debut in the ABC all-star spy and anti-drug film directed by Terence Young, "The Poppy Is Also a Flower" (1966), Sharif co-starred with Barbra Streisand in William Wyler's film based on the stage musical, "Funny Girl" (1968). In the movie, he portrayed the sophisticated entrepreneur and gambler Nicky Arnstein, the husband to comedienne Fannie Brice (played by Streisand, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role). He would later briefly reprise his role in the film sequel, "Funny Lady" (1975), helmed by Herbert Ross. Meanwhile, in 1974, he divorced his real-life wife of twenty years, Faten Hamama.
Sharif was cast as the suicidal Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria in Terence Young's high-budgeted romantic tragedy film "Mayerling" (1968; with Catherine Deneuve, James Mason, and Ava Gardner), which was based on the novels "Mayerling" by Claude Anet and "L'Archiduc" by Michel Arnold, as well as the original 1936 film directed by Anatole Litvak, and as a lawyer who suspects his new wife (played by Anouk Aimée) as Rome's highest paid prostitute in Sidney Lumet's psychological drama "The Appointment" (1969). He also portrayed the title role in Richard Fleischer's disastrous biopic about Ernesto "Che" Guevara, "Che!" (1969), and was seen in the hit Western "McKenna's Gold" (1969). He also played a notorious Mexican outlaw named Colorado in J. Lee Thompson's western film, "Mackenna's Gold" (1969).
The 1970s saw Sharif play lead roles in John Frankenheimer's film adaptation of a novel by French writer Joseph Kessel, "The Horsemen" (1971) and Terence Young's thriller film inspired by Sidney Sheldon's novel, "Bloodline" (1979), starring Audrey Hepburn. He also appeared in two British films helmed by Blake Edwards, "The Tamarind Seed" (1974; opposite Julie Andrews as his love interest) and "The Pink Panther Strikes Again" (1976; starring Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom), playing an unaccredited cameo as an Egyptian assassin. Additionally, he played an Arab Prince named Hassan, opposite Michael Caine, in Richard Fleischer's adventure film, "Ashanti" (1979).
In the following decade, Sharif had a short performance as Agent Cedric in David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker's raucous comedy "Top Secret!" (1984), which stars Val Kilmer in his first feature film. He also played a supporting role in the French film "Possédés, Les" (1988; aka. "The Possessed") and made his West End stage debut with a revival of Terrence Rattigan's famous 1953 play, "The Sleeping Prince" (1988), at the Chichester Festival Theatre in Sussex, England.
“I see only defects because I'm not following the scene as it were. I'm not following the other person. It's like the best thing to clarify this is the theater.” Omar Sharif
During this time, TV viewers could catch him as a professional gambler in the CBS movie "The Pleasure Palace" (1980), Ben Cross' Indian mentor in HBO's "The Far Pavilions" (1984), a Turkish sultan in ABC's "Harem" (1986), and a Russian Prince in NBC's "Peter the Great" (1986).
“I intended not to work again unless something made me enthusiastic. I wanted to stop making lousy films, which I've been making for about 30 years, which is a long time for making lousy films (laughing). It got to the point where my grandchildren were making fun of me, which is terrible.” Omar Sharif
Early in the 1990s, Sharif became a member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival. He then starred in the Italian film "Viaggio d'Amore" (1990; aka. “Journey of Love”), the Egyptian "Moaten Masry, al-" (1991; aka. "War in the Land of Egypt"), and the Japanese "Tengoku No Taizai" (1992; aka. "Heavenly Sin"). He also portrayed a romantic Frenchman, opposite Angela Lansbury, in the CBS comedy movie based on Paul Gallico's novel, "Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris" (1992).
After having heart bypass surgery in 1992, Sharif moved back to his home country in Egypt. He suffered a mild heart attack in 1994, but quickly returned to acting afterward. He played the sorcerer in the NBC production of Jonathan Swift's novel "Gulliver's Travels" (1996; starring Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen). He also went back to features in the supporting role in John McTiernan's action film based on Michael Crichton's novel "Eaters of the Dead," "The 13th Warrior" (1999), as Melchisidek, an old friend of Muslim writer and traveler Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan's (played by Antonio Banderas) father.
Sharif spent the new millennium acting in the mini series "Shaka Zulu: The Citadel" (2001; with David Hasselhoff, Karen Allen, and Henry Cele) and in François Dupeyron's French movie based on a book and a play by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt, "Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran" (2003; aka. "Monsieur Ibrahim"), in which he starred as the elderly Muslim man who makes friends with a young Jewish boy (played by Pierre Boulanger) in Paris. His brilliant performance in the latter film won him Best Actor at the César Awards and at the Venice Film Festival, where he also received a Golden Lion Award.
In 2004, Sharif was cast opposite Viggo Mortensen in Joe Johnston's western film based on the life and tales of former horse rider Frank Hopkins (played by Mortensen), "Hidalgo.” The next year, in November of 2005, he was awarded a medal by UNESCO in honor of his significant contribution to world film and cultural diversity.
Sharif recently played the title role of a reluctant, but passionate, leader in the made-for-television movie "San Pietro" (2005), and portrayed Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses (played by Dougray Scott), in the epic TV movie "The Ten Commandments" (2006). More recently, in 2008, Sharif served as the narrator of "10,000 B.C.," a Roland Emmerich's film set in the prehistoric era starring Steven Strait and Camilla Belle.
"I'd rather be playing bridge than making a bad movie." Omar Sharif
Besides acting, Sharif was also a world-class Bridge player who has authored books and a weekly syndicated column on the subject for the “Chicago Tribune” in the 1970s and 1980s. He also lent his name to a Bridge computer game, "Omar Sharif Bridge," which h s been marketed since 1992. He once represented his country Egypt in the 1964 Olympic bridge competition. Additionally, he has been a regular in casinos in France, where he once punched a casino employee after losing thousands of dollars on a single roulette bet.
César: Best Actor, "Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran," 2004
Venice Film Festival: Golden Lion, 2003
Venice Film Festival: Audience Award-Best Actor, "Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran," 2003
Golden Globe: Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama, "Doctor Zhivago," 1966
Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actor, "Lawrence of Arabia," 1963
Golden Globe: Most Promising Newcomer - Male, 1963