- Apr 10, 1932
- Alexandria, Egypt
Over the course of a career that spanned seven decades, Omar Sharif played every ethnic type imaginable: Spanish, Mongolian, Yugoslavian, Turkish, Russian, Jewish, Argentinian, Mexican, and -- most improbably -- a German serving as a Nazi officer (in 1967's Night of the Generals). That was the nature of his smoldering, swarthy good looks: Every race… More Bio:
Over the course of a career that spanned seven decades, Omar Sharif played every ethnic type imaginable: Spanish, Mongolian, Yugoslavian, Turkish, Russian, Jewish, Argentinian, Mexican, and -- most improbably -- a German serving as a Nazi officer (in 1967's Night of the Generals). That was the nature of his smoldering, swarthy good looks: Every race wanted to claim him as their own. The first Arab actor to achieve worldwide fame, Sharif nonetheless could never match the splash he made with two of his earliest English-language features, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.
Omar Sharif was born Michel Demetri Shalhoub on April 10, 1932, to a well-to-do Lebanese Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt. His father was a lumber merchant, while his mother was a socialite whose guests included King Farouk (and who sent her pudgy son to a British-style boarding school so he would lose weight eating the blander food.) He had a natural intelligence for numbers and language, and by the time he graduated from Cairo University with a degree in mathematics and physics, he could speak five languages (including Arabic, English, and French). After graduation, he worked alongside his father in the family lumber business, but his unused talents made him restless for bigger success.
Egypt was known as "the Hollywood of the Middle East" in the 1950s, producing more than 100 Arabic-language films a year. Hoping to break into the movies, Shalhoub chose the new moniker "Omar Sharif"; he reasoned Westerners would be familiar with Gen. Omar Bradley, and "Sharif" was similar to "sheriff." In 1954, director Youssef Chahine offered his friend a part in Shaytan Al-Sahra ("Devil of the Desert"), followed by a leading role in Siraa Fil-Wadi ("Struggle to the Valley") opposite Egyptian actress Faten Hamama, a pretty girl-next-door type who had been beloved by Cairo audiences ever since her debut as a child star. A romance soon blossomed between the co-stars; Sharif eventually converted to Islam in order to marry her, and Hamama allowed him to kiss her onscreen, which she had not agreed to do with any other co-star. The duo made seven more movies together, and had a son named Tarek in 1957.
Sharif's smoldering yet dignified box-office appeal spread from Egypt to European art-house cinemas, and eventually caught the attention of British director David Lean, who was casting Arabic actors for his biopic of T.E. Lawrence. Sharif's fluency in English put him ahead of the rest of the contenders, and he won the role of Sherif Ali Ibn El Karish in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Even though the 100-day shoot in the desert -- "without women," the actor later lamented -- tried the entire cast's patience, Sharif enjoyed working under Lean and earned the respect of the notoriously actor-hating director through his dedication. Similarly, Sharif became great friends with Peter O'Toole, declaring that he and his co-star were "like brothers" who, after shooting wrapped, vowed to work together again should any occasion arise.
Sharif's role in Lawrence of Arabia made him an international star and won him Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actor and Most Promising Newcomer, as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Doctor Zhivago (1965), his next film for Lean (which included a cameo by his son Tarek as the younger version of his character), cemented his position as a superstar. Doctor Zhivago was an unprecedented smash, making more than 100 million dollars at the box office (over 750 million today, when adjusted for inflation), and earning ten Academy Award nominations and five wins.
These two blockbusters made Sharif a star, but he considered it a devil's bargain. Without an agent to act on his behalf, he signed a seven-year contract with Columbia that put his fee at what some sources say was as low as 15,000 dollars per film -- even for hits like Funny Girl (1968). Long sojourns in Europe an
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