Sharif, Omar (1932–)

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Sharif, Omar
(1932–)

An Egyptian film star, Omar Sharif is the only Arab and Middle Eastern actor to rise to Hollywood superstar status.

PERSONAL HISTORY

Omar (also Umar) Sharif was born Michel Demitri Shalhoub (also Shalhub) on 10 April 1932 in Alexandria, Egypt. His father, Joseph Shalhoub, was a wealthy Egyptian merchant of Lebanese Christian descent. His mother, Claire Shalhoub (née Sa'ada) was of Lebanese and Syrian descent. Michel Shalhoub's secondary schooling was at the prestigious Victoria College in Alexandria, after which he reportedly graduated from Cairo University with a degree in math and physics.

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Shalhoub made his Egyptian film debut in The Blazing Sun in 1953. Between 1953 and 1958, he appeared in twenty-four Arabic-language films, and became a well-known actor in Egypt—the Hollywood of the Arab world. Although Shalhoub was raised as a Catholic Christian, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Omar Sharif in 1955 in order to marry Fatin Hamama, a Muslim who was one of the leading actresses in Egypt.

Sharif became internationally known outside the Arab world after playing a lead role in the famous 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, a part for which he received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Sharif has appeared in many English-language films, and starred along with many famous actors, including Doctor Zhivago (1965, starring with Julie Christie) and Funny Girl (1968, with Barbra Streisand). A big star in the 1960s and 1970s, he made a comeback in the 2003 film Mr. Ibrahim, in which he played the role of an old Arab man in Paris who adopts a young Jewish boy.

On the set of his first film, Sharif became bored during the long pauses between his scenes and took up the game of bridge to while away the time. He pursued his interest in contract bridge, becoming one of the world's leading authorities on the game and authoring several books on the subject.

THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE

By the mid-1960s, Omar Sharif had become one of the most recognized film stars in the world, hugely popular both in the Arab world and the West. He won the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award for fifty years in films at the 2003 Biennale Venice Film Festival after the film Mr. Ibrahim. He also became famous as a contract bridge player and for his passion for casino gambling.

LEGACY

Sharif will be remembered for many things, including his acting skills and his extensive knowledge and writings about bridge, as well as because he was the first—and as of 2007, only—Arab and indeed Middle Eastern actor to transcend his regional stature as an Egyptian actor and rise to superstar status in Hollywood and in Europe.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

"A Tribute to Omar Sharif: Articles and Interviews 2004." Available from http://omarsharif.netfirms.com/articles2004.htm.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. New York: Crowell, 1979.

                                            David Waldner

                     updated by Roxanne Varzi

                   updated by Michael R. Fischbach

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Omar (Umar) Sharif

Birth: 1932, Alexandria, Egypt

Family: Divorced. Former wife, Fatin Hamama (m. 1955); one son, Tarek (b. 1957)

Nationality: Egyptian

Education: Cairo University

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1953: Appears in his first film in Egypt, The Blazing Sun
  • 1955: Converts to Islam, marries Fatin Hamama
  • 1962: Hollywood debut in Lawrence of Arabia
  • 1963: Nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Lawrence of Arabia
  • 1968: Appears in Funny Girl
  • 2003: Mr. Ibrahim; Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award at the Biennale Venice Film Festival