Most of the world knew him as the character Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia acting as a counterfoil to legendary actor Peter O Toole, but for me he was an embodiment of the sensitive Doctor Zhivago in the movie by that name – Dr. Zhivago. Both films were made by David Lean, who could take credit for introducing Egypt born Omar to Hollywood and film buffs the world over. As it happens, the actor himself also felt like this who was often heard saying he did not understand the fuss about ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ which he said just had characters riding from one end of the sand dune to the other!
Nevertheless, Sharif won two Golden Globe awards and an Oscar nomination for his role as Sherif Ali in this movie.
He won a further Golden Globe three years later for Doctor Zhivago.
His agent Steve Kenis said: “He suffered a heart attack this afternoon in a hospital in Cairo.” Earlier this year, his agent confirmed he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Born Michel Shalhoub in Alexandria in April 1932, Sharif started out in his family’s lumber business before going to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada).
He made his screen debut in the 1954 Egyptian film Siraa Fil-Wadi (The Blazing Sun) and rapidly became a star in his own country.
His big break came when David Lean cast him in Lawrence of Arabia, introducing the actor with a now-legendary shot of him riding a camel out of a shimmering heat haze towards the camera.
Peter O’Toole, who played TE Lawrence in the 1962 multiple Oscar-winner, considered Sharif’s name ridiculous and insisted on calling him “Fred”. The pair soon became fast friends.
The actor went through a daily routine of hair-straightening and skin-waxing in order to disguise his Egyptian looks and would later admit the film lad left him close to a nervous breakdown.
Other notable roles came opposite Barbra Streisand in her first film Funny Girl and as Julie Andrews’ lover in spy thriller The Tamarind Seed.