Omar Sharif: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Omar Sharif

Getty Omar Sharif

Today’s Google Doodle honors Omar Sharif and what would have been his 86th birthday. Sharif died at the age of 83 in 2015. He was an Egyptian actor best known for his appearances in films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and Funny Girl. He was a talented performer, winning three Golden Globe Awards and a Cesar Award, and being nominated for an Academy Award. He was also quite intelligent, able to fluently speak Arabic, English, French, Spanish, and Italian. Here’s everything you need to know about Omar Sharif, including photos and videos of his life, the love of his life Faten, and the grandson who not only carries his name but also is carrying on his acting legacy.


1. Omar Sharif’s Mother Played Cards with the King

Omar Sharif

GettyOmar Sharif

Sharif was born Michel Demitri Chalhoub, a Greek Orthodox Catholic of Lebanese descent. His father was Joseph Chalhoub, a precious woods merchant who did very well in his career. When Sharif was four, his family moved to Cairo. At that point, Joseph began salvaging barbed wire left over from World War II and made even more money that way. Sharif said that his father’s business was successful, but only because of “dishonest and immoral ways.” His father died in 1979 while playing backgammon with Sharif’s son, Tarek. “He died laughing,” Sharif told The New York Times. “He was winning for the first time in his life, and had a stroke.”

Sharif’s mother, Claire Chalhoub, was a socialite and known gambler, Good Times Magazine reported. She often played cards with King Farouk, who believed that she brought him good luck. Sharif said about his mother: “By night she would play cards, by day she would give me the slipper. She hit me on my backside every day till I was 14. She was an extraordinary woman – she lived till 1998. I was very close to her, even though she beat me all the time!”

When he was 10, he went to the Victoria College boarding school, where he performed in his first production. After that, he was hooked. He graduated from Cairo University with a degree in math and physics, but acting was always his passion. His father forbid him to act and said he had to joint he family business. But after joining the business, he slashed his wrists to scare his father into giving him more freedom. He finally left for London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Here’s a video interview with Omar Sharif:


2. Faten Hamama Was Always the Love of Omar Sharif’s Life, & They Died Six Months Apart

GettyEgyptian actress Faten Hamama with her four-year-old son Tarek during a press conference in London, 22nd November 1961.

From 1955 to 1974, Omar Sharif was married to Egyptian actress Faten Hamama. Sharif converted to Islam in order to marry Faten, and this was when he changed his name to Omar Sharif. They met while filming The Blazing Sun. Faten had refused to be kissed on screen until she met Sharif. The two made more than a dozen movies together.

They only got divorced after he was self-exiled in Europe. He chose to remain in Europe in between film shoots because traveling was incredibly difficult due to so many travel restrictions that were in place. The separation was amicable and Sharif never remarried. He said that he never fell in love with another woman again. He once said about his fame: “It gave me glory, but it gave me loneliness also. And a lot of missing my own land, my own people and my own country.”

Sharif and Faten died less than six months apart.

But despite his deep love for Faten, he also had numerous romances with other women, including Barbra Streisand. Sharif and Barbra Streisand had an affair while filming Funny Girl. When a photo leaked showing them kissing, the affair became a huge scandal, as Streisand was Jewish and tensions were still high following the Israeli-Egyptian Six Day War, TCM reported. Streisand made light of the whole thing, saying: “Egypt angry! You should hear what my Aunt Sarah said!” Sharif said that the Arab press called him a traitor for the publicized kiss. “I told them neither in my professional nor private life do I ask a girl her nationality or religion when I kiss her,” he said.

GettyAmerican actress and singer Barbra Streisand with actor Omar Sharif.

Their affair lasted through the filming of the movie. Sharif said about Streisand: “Barbra Streisand, who struck me as being ugly at first, gradually cast her spell over me. I fell madly in love with her talent and her personality. The feeling was mutual for four months – the time it took to shoot the picture.” Both Sharif and Streisand were married at the time.

Sharif was known mostly in Egypt until he was cast in Lawrence of Arabia as Sherif Ali Ben El Kharish. This role skyrocketed his career. He and Peter O’Toole became good friends during the filming. Once they even ended up in jail the night of the movie’s Hollywood premiere, and Sam Spiegel had to get them out. After Lawrence, he was cast in Doctor Zhivago in 1965. He won a Golden Globe, but said the film almost gave him a nervous breakdown. After this movie, he was cast in Funny Girl. He was a legend in films ever since.


3. Omar Sharif Loved Playing Bridge & Racing Horses

Omar Sharif

GettyOmar Sharif

Sharif had many interests outside of acting. He loved horse racing and his horses won many important races. He even wrote for a French horse racing magazine. He was also known in the 1960s as being one of the world’s best known contract bridge players, IMDB reported. He wrote several books about bridge and co-wrote a syndicated column about bridge for the Chicago Tribune. In 2006, he said he wasn’t playing bridge anymore because he 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.”

He said that he gambled because he didn’t have any friends to eat with, he told The Guardian. “I would ever think of going to a casino, to a gambling club, if I had someone to dine with,” he said in 2004. In fact, he was once arrested for head-butting as policeman after he lost about 200,000 pounds. “I wasn’t doing it (gambling) because I had a passion for it,” he said. “I had a passion for bridge, and now I’ve quit even that.”

Being a multi-talented Renaissance man of sorts, he also made money selling perfume in Europe and worked with a travel agency that booked bridge cruises. When he wasn’t filming, he said he would go to sleep at 5 a.m. and wake up in the middle of the day. “I can’t eat if I don’t have wine, and I can’t have wine during the daytime,” he told The Guardian.

While he traveled the world, his mother lived in Spain, his son lived in Montreal, and his sister lived in Atlanta. Later in life, he lived in Cairo with family.


4. He Had Alzheimer’s Later in Life, but Died of a Heart Attack

GettyOmar Sharif

Sharif suffered quite a few health problems later in life. He had a triple bypass in 1992 and had a mild heart attack in 1994. Prior to his bypass, he smoked 100 cigarettes a day. In 1995, The New York Times reported that after his bypass, he decided to move back to Cairo. But when he had his surgery at the age of 60, he didn’t tell his mother about it because he didn’t want her to worry. “I didn’t want her to have a shock, so I was completely alone in an English hospital where they had a very good doctor for this. And I thought, ‘I want to be with friends, and own a home,’ which I never have. The people are gentle in Cairo.”

In May 2015, his family shared that he had Alzheimer’s. His son Tarek said that he was confused and would mix up the names of his films or forget where they were made. He would also confuse his fans with people that he used to know. The news followed years of rumors that he had stopped acting because he could no longer remember his lines. At the time, his spokeswoman denied those rumors and said he was only suffering extreme fatigue and a broken heart over the problems in Egypt. In 2013, Sharif admitted to forgetting many things, but said it helped him not dwell on the past. Tarek said in 2015 that his dad didn’t recognize that he was ill and wouldn’t do exercises that might slow the disease. He said his father’s routine consisted of relaxing on a terrace after breakfast and listening to live music in the hotel bar at night.

On July 10, 2015, he died in Cairo after a heart attack. There were many accolades to him on Twitter after his passing.


5. His Grandson, Omar Sharif Jr., Is an Actor and Carrying on His Grandfather’s Legacy

Sharif had one son with Faten, Tarek El-Sharif, who was born in 1957. Tarek worked in advertising and later in clothing manufacturing. Sharif said that he and his son were always close, and even double dated when Tarek was a teen. “I love him. He’s my best friend,” he said in 1995. He also has two grandsons: Karim Sharif and Omar Sharif, born in 1983 in Montreal.

You can see the resemblance between grandson and grandfather by comparing their photos. Here is one of Omar Jr.

And here is one of Omar, around the same age:

GettyA photo from the early 1950s of Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.

The younger Omar Sharif is also an actor and carrying on in his grandfather’s footsteps. He’s a well-known actor, model, and gay activist. He was the face of Coca-Cola for the Arabic world, and was in a major Calvin Klein ad campaign in Egypt. He appeared in the 2000 Egyptian miniseries Wagh el qamar, a 2005-2006 Canadian series called Virginie, and a 2008 Egyptian film called Hasaan wa Morcus, and a 2016 Irish film called The Secret Scripture.

When he decided to be an actor, his grandfather told him:  “I gave you my name, I gave you my looks. I’m not going to give you anything else. You have to do it entirely on your own.” His latest movie, 11th Hour, co-starred Salma Hayek and was selected by the TriBeCa Film Festival in 2017. 

 

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