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Omar Sharif: Doctor Zhivago star dies in Egypt

Published 10/07/2015

Omar Sharif has died aged 83. (Photo by Zak Hussein/Getty Images)
Omar Sharif has died aged 83. (Photo by Zak Hussein/Getty Images)

Doctor Zhivago star Omar Sharif has died aged 83, his agent said.

The Egyptian actor, who also starred in hit films including Lawrence of Arabia and Funny Girl, was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

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

The Egyptian-born actor was nominated for an Oscar for his role in David Lean's epic re-telling of the Lawrence of Arabia story.

He starred in dozens of films but his career never quite lived up to its early promise and his later fame rested on his ability with a pack of cards - he was a regular in casinos and was one of the world's best bridge players.

Gambling took its toll on his career and, speaking in 2004, Sharif said he stopped making films when his own grandchildren started making fun of the low-rent movies he was appearing in.

He said: "I stopped making movies because for the last 25 years I've been making a lot of rubbish because I was in debt all the time".

Lawrence of Arabia made Sahrif a star

Omar Sharif's obituary could so easily have announced the death of an internationally renowned bridge player had his passion for the card game not been trumped by a greater love - acting.

The Egyptian would go on to make a name for himself as star of Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

But it could have turned out so differently had the lumber merchant's son not pursued a career in showbiz.

Born Michel Demitri Chalhoub in Alexandria in Egypt on April 10 1932, he took an interest in acting while still at school.

He was raised a Christian but converted to Islam to marry Egyptian actress Faten Hamama, taking on the surname Sharif that was to become known around the world.

Sharif rose to international stardom with his role in the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia - his first English-language film, almost a decade into his acting career. He earned an Oscar nomination for his turn as Sherif Ali in David Lean's film opposite Peter O'Toole.

Sharif followed the breakthrough performance with the title role in Lean's Doctor Zhivago, co-starring Julie Christie.

The film was also notable for the fact his son, Tarek, played a younger version of the protagonist.

Sharif senior went on to play Fanny Brice's husband, Nicky Arnstein, in Funny Girl - and subsequently starred in the sequel, Funny Lady - alongside Barbra Streisand.

Aside from acting, he forged a successful career as one of the world's foremost contract bridge players. This include forays into the computer game market with Omar Sharif's Bridge in the 1990s, as well as writing several newspaper columns on the subject.

In later life, Sharif, who could speak at least half a dozen languages, was plagued by bouts of ill health.

He underwent triple bypass surgery in 1992, and suffered a mild heart attack in 1994. Until his bypass, he smoked 100 cigarettes a day.

Sharif gave up bridge in 2006, telling reporters: "I decided I didn't want to be a slave to any passion any more except for my work.

"I had too many passions, bridge, horses, gambling. I want to live a different kind of life, be with my family more because I didn't give them enough time."

Sharif was ordered to take an anger management class in 2007 after he punched a parking attendant in the US.

Four years earlier, he was convicted of striking a police officer at a casino near Paris. He received a one-month suspended sentence and a 1,700 US dollar (£850 at the time) fine.

In happier times, he was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Hull in 2010 and was said to have been a huge fan of the Hull City football team - even jetting in to London to watch his side contest the 2014 FA Cup final. He was encouraged to support the team in the 1960s by fellow actor Sir Tom Courtenay, while the pair were sharing a flat.

Earlier this year, it was confirmed Sharif was suffering from Alzheimer's.

His son told Spanish newspaper El Mundo: "He knows who he is but not necessarily the reason people greet him.

"When someone seems him in the street and approaches him, he often thinks it's someone he used to know whose name and face he's forgotten when most of the time it's just a fan. He still knows he's a famous actor."

Sharif died after suffering a heart attack in hospital in Cairo, aged 83.

Online Editors

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