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Omar Sharrif - RIP

Omar Sharrif - RIP

Actor Omar Sharif, best known for his roles in classic films Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, has died aged 83.

Egypt-born Sharif won two Golden Globe awards and an Oscar nomination for his role as Sherif Ali in David Lean's 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia.

He won a further Golden Globe three years later for Doctor Zhivago.

Earlier this year, his agent confirmed he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

His agent Steve Kenis said: "He suffered a heart attack this afternoon in a hospital in Cairo."

Spanish actor Antonio Banderas, who appeared with Sharif in 1999 film The 13th Warrior, remembered him as "one of the best"."He was a great storyteller, a loyal friend and a wise spirit."

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.

In later life Sharif claimed to be baffled by the film's success, saying it had merely been shots of people on camels walking from one side of the screen to the other.

David Lean went on to cast Sharif in the title role of his next epic Doctor Zhivago, in which he played a physician caught up in the Russian Revolution.

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 had 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.

Whilst one of the 20th century’s greatest romantic actors was more interested in talking about his real passion — bridge.

He did not learn bridge until his acting career began at age 21. According to Sharif, he was idle on a movie set when he noticed a bridge book lying around. After reading it, he became fascinated by the game and began playing both rubber and duplicate bridge in Cairo.

Sharif enjoyed both the wealth and prestige to actually promote the card game which he declared his personal passion. Having developed into an expert player, he formed the "Omar Sharif Bridge Circus" in 1967 to showcase bridge. The Circus was a traveling tour of bridge players that promoted the game via exhibition matches. 

Wheeling through Europe, the Circus attracted thousands of spectators who watched the matches via BRIDGE-O-RAMA, a new technology (and predecessor to the modern-day VuGraph) that displayed bidding and cardplay on television monitors. With Sharif playing the Blue Team Club bidding system with his expert teammates, the Circus won multiple matches against local experts in multiple cities. After their European tour, the Circus barnstormed through Canada and the United States in 1968. They were accompanied by the Dallas Aces, the top American pro team of the era, and played friendly matches with local teams in several North American cities. During that year, Sharif also found time to serve as Egypt's captain in the World Team Olympiad.

In 1970, Sharif led his Circus to London's famous Piccadilly Hotel for an 80-rubber match against British experts Jeremy Flint and Jonathan Cansino. The stakes were £1 per point - huge stakes even by today's standards. The purpose of the event, according to British expert and writer Tony Forrester, was "to present bridge as a rich, exciting spectacle; to break through into television and so bring the game within the reach of millions who were still denied its joys." 3 The Circus ultimately won the match by 5,470 points, but Sharif still incurred a net loss after paying all related expenses. 4

It was also during the 1970s that Sharif began writing a bridge column with the Chicago Tribune. Co-authored with Tannah Hirsch, the column has since been widely syndicated. Sharif also penned two bridge books in the '80s and '90s: "Omar Sharif's Life in Bridge" (1983), and "Play More Bridge With Omar Sharif" (1994). During this time, he continued playing bridge in London and Paris with top experts like Paul Chemla of France.

A great loss to the game - RIP Omar

Posted: Sun 12 Jul 2015


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