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Remembering Hollywood Icon Omar Sharif

  • Mohamed Elshinnawi

FILE - In a 1965 image provided by MGM, Yuri Zhivago, played by Omar Sharif (2nd from L), is shown arriving with replacement Russian troops in a scene from the film 'Doctor Zhivago.'

FILE - In a 1965 image provided by MGM, Yuri Zhivago, played by Omar Sharif (2nd from L), is shown arriving with replacement Russian troops in a scene from the film 'Doctor Zhivago.'

Actor Omar Sharif, an icon of Hollywood's glamorous era, has died at the age of 83.

FILE - Actor Omar Sharif poses for a photo at a dinner party following the movie premiere of "Lawrence of Arabia" in Hollywood, California, Dec. 21, 1962.

FILE - Actor Omar Sharif poses for a photo at a dinner party following the movie premiere of "Lawrence of Arabia" in Hollywood, California, Dec. 21, 1962.

During his long career, the Egyptian-born Sharif won international acclaim and numerous awards. His role as Sherif Ali in David Lean's 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia earned him two Golden Globe awards and an Oscar nomination. He won a further Golden Globe three years later for Doctor Zhivago, in which he starred as a physician caught up in the Russian Revolution.

In 2009, when he came to Washington to accept a lifetime achievement award from the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, he spoke with VOA’s Mohamed Elshinnawi.

Omar Sharif credited the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia with launching his international acting career. The role also made Sharif an attractive cultural emissary for his native Egypt. At the time, he was a matinee idol; and Gamal Abdel Nasser was the country's charismatic, anti-Western leader:

"I arrived in Hollywood when Nasser was in power. And Nasser at that time in the ‘60s was viewed in America just as badly as Saddam Hussein before they took him out,” he said. “So if you can imagine an Iraqi actor before the Iraq war would come and become a star in Hollywood; you couldn't conceive it.”

“Now,” he added, “this was a very lucky thing, because I was lucky to find the right part in a great film - Lawrence of Arabia was a great film, probably one of the greatest films ever made - and so I was very lucky and I was immediately nominated for an Academy Award."

Omar Sharif gestures during the photo call for the film 'Al Mosafer (The Traveller)' at the 66th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, Sept. 10, 2009.

Omar Sharif gestures during the photo call for the film 'Al Mosafer (The Traveller)' at the 66th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, Sept. 10, 2009.


The Arab actor received a warm welcome in Hollywood. He said felt no tensions during the four years in the 1960s when he lived and worked in the U.S. Sharif, however, told VOA he was saddened by what he saw as a widening gap between America and the Arab world in the 21st century.

"The world was different,” he said. “it was not like today where we have this terrible hatred between each other, between some of the Arabs and some of the Americans, those extreme radicals, so it was a different world. It is not the same world anymore."

He said he thought the September 11 terrorist attacks led many Americans to form gross misperceptions of Arabs and Muslims, and that they struggle to distinguish among the small groups of Muslims who are hostile to the West and the majority who, he said, are peace-loving.

Sharif - who was brought up Roman Catholic and converted to Islam when he married - often sought roles that show how Muslims can live in harmony with people of other faiths.

In a 2003 French drama, Monsieur Ibraham, he played a Muslim shopkeeper in Paris who adopts a Jewish boy. The film won him the Cesar - the French equivalent of the Oscar - as well as some of his best reviews in decades.

The late international movie star advocated building bridges among cultures through dialogue.

"We must be reasonable, all of us, them - the Americans - and we have to be reasonable and not have hatred at all,” he said. “We must have comprehension and try to … sit down and talk and be reasonable."

The actor remained active, doing voice-over work and taking small movie and TV roles, the last being the 2013 French-Moroccan drama Rock the Casbah. His son, actor Tarek Sharif, revealed in May that his father was suffering from Alzheimer's.

Omar Sharif's death, Friday in Cairo, was from a heart attack.

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