Omar Sharif

Omar Sharif
Omar Sharif
عمر الشريف

Omar Sharif, September 2009
Born Michael Demitri Shalhoub
April 10, 1932 (1932-04-10) (age 79)
Alexandria, Egypt
Occupation Actor
Years active 1954–present
Religion Islam
Spouse Faten Hamama (1954-74)

Omar Sharif (Arabic: عمر الشريف‎, Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [ˈʕomɑɾˤ eʃʃɪˈɾiːf]; born Michael Demitri Shalhoub, [ˈmɑjkel dɪˈmitɾi ʃælˈhuːb]; April 10, 1932) is an Egyptian actor who has starred in Hollywood films including Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Funny Girl. He has been nominated for an Academy Award and has won two Golden Globe Awards.


Early life

Omar Sharif was born Michel Dimitri Shalhoub in Alexandria into a wealthy Lebanese family.[1] Sharif graduated from Alexandria's Victoria College, where he is reported by his schoolmate Edward W. Said to have been sadistic and physically abusive in his capacity as "head boy"[2] at Alexandria's Victoria College. Sharif later graduated from Cairo University with degrees in both mathematics and physics.

Acting career

Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia

Omar al Sharif is from a Syrian family, Damascus Bab Thomas area, as he announced in an interview at MTV Lebanon channel in 2005 for a program called Maraya. He and his mother moved, however, to Lebanon for sometime just before they moved permanently to Egypt.

In 1953, Sharif began his acting career with a role in Sira` Fi al-Wadi. He quickly rose to stardom, appearing in over 20 Egyptian productions including Ayyamna el helwa with singer Abdel Halim Hafez, La anam in 1958, Sayedat el kasr in 1959 and the Anna Karenina adaptation Nahr el hub in 1961. He also starred with his wife, Egyptian actress Faten Hamama, in several movies as romantic leads.

Sharif's first English language film was in the role of Sherif Ali in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. This performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture. Following this breakthrough role, Sharif played a variety of characters, including a Spanish priest in Behold a Pale Horse (1964) and the Mongolian conqueror in Ghengis Khan. In 1965, Sharif reunited with Lean to play the title role in Doctor Zhivago, an adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel. Over the next few years, Sharif starred as a German military officer in The Night of the Generals, as Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria in Mayerling and as Che Guevara in Che!. Sharif was also acclaimed for his portrayal of Nicky Arnstein, husband to Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, though some thought he was miscast as a New York Jewish gambler. His decision to work with co-star Barbra Streisand angered Egypt's government at the time due to Streisand's support for the state of Israel. Streisand herself responded with "You think Cairo was upset? You should've seen the letter I got from my Aunt Rose!" Sharif reprised the role in the film’s sequel, Funny Lady in 1975.

In 2003 he received acclaim for his role in the French-language film adaptation of the novel Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran as a Muslim Turkish merchant who becomes a father figure for a Jewish boy.

Contract Bridge career

Sharif once ranked among the world's best known contract bridge players, forming the "Omar Sharif Bridge Circus" in 1967 which toured the world, competing against such powerhouse teams as Blue Team and Dallas Aces, at a time when barnstorming bridge teams were very popular. With Charles Goren, Sharif co-wrote a syndicated newspaper bridge column for the Chicago Tribune[3] for several years, but has mostly turned over the writing of the column to Tannah Hirsch, whose name appears on the byline with Sharif to this day. He is also both author and co-author of several books on bridge and has licensed his name to a bridge computer game; initially released in a DOS version and Amiga version in 1992, Omar Sharif Bridge is still sold in Windows and "mobile platform" versions.[4] For a number of years his partner at international tournaments was Egyptian Contract Bridge Superstar Maged Elewa.

Sharif has been a regular in casinos in France.[5]

In 2006, Sharif declared both pastimes as ended when he was asked if he still played bridge: "I've stopped altogether. 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."[6]

Personal life

Sharif is fluent in Arabic, English, Greek, and French. He also speaks some Italian, Spanish and Turkish.[7]

Family and personal relationships

Sharif lived in his native Egypt from birth in 1932 until he moved to Europe in 1965.[8] He recounts that, in 1932, his father "wasn't a wealthy man", but "earned quite a bit of money".[9] Before the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, King Farouk frequented Sharif's family's house, and became a friend and card game partner of Sharif's mother. His mother was an elegant and charming hostess who was all too delighted with the association because it gave her the privilege of "consorting only with the elite" of Egyptian society. Sharif also recounts that his father's timber business was very successful during that time, in ways that Sharif himself describes as dishonest or immoral.[10]

By contrast, after 1952, Sharif states[11] that wealth changed hands (or names) in Egypt, under Nasser's nationalization policies. His father's business "took a beating". Travel restrictions in the form of "exit visas" were required of Egyptians, and his own travel to take part in international films was sometimes impeded, which he could not tolerate. The Nasser government's travel restrictions[12] influenced Omar's decision to remain in Europe between his film shoots, a decision that cost him his marriage to Egyptian film legend Faten Hamama, though they remained friends. It was a major cross-roads in Omar's life and changed him from an established family man to a life-long bachelor living in European hotels. When commenting about his fame and life in Hollywood, Sharif said, "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."[13] Due to the state of war between Egypt and Israel, Sharif's Egyptian citizenship was almost withdrawn by the Egyptian Government when his affair with Barbra Streisand was made public in the Egyptian press due to Streisand's vocal support of Israel.[14]

In 1955, Omar El-Sharif converted to Islam and then married Egyptian actress Faten Hamama.[15] The couple had one son, Tarek El-Sharif, who appeared in Doctor Zhivago as Yuri at the age of eight. They separated in 1966 and the marriage ended in 1974.[16] Sharif never remarried; he stated that since his divorce, he never fell in love with another woman, and that, although he lived abroad for years, it was not possible for him to fall in love with a woman who was not Egyptian.[17][18]

Sharif with Lebanese actress/singer Cyrine Abdelnour at the Venice film festival (2009)

Sharif became friends with Peter O'Toole during the making of Lawrence of Arabia. They have appeared in several other films together and remain close friends. He is also good friends with Egyptologist Zahi Hawass. Actor and friend Tom Courtenay revealed in an interview for the July 19, 2008, edition of BBC Radio's Test Match Special that Sharif supported Hull City Association Football Club and in the 1970s would telephone their automated scoreline from his home in Paris for score updates. Sharif was given an honorary degree by the University Of Hull in 2010 and used the occasion to meet up with Hull City football player Ken Wagstaff.[19]

At present, Sharif resides mostly in Cairo with his family.[20] In addition to his son, he has two grandsons, Omar (b. 1983 Montreal) and Karim.[21] Omar's elder grandson, Omar Sharif Jr. is also an actor.[22] He is most recently known for playfully tussling on stage at the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony with actor Kirk Douglas, who was presenting the award for Best Supporting Actress that evening.[23]

Health problems

Sharif underwent a triple bypass surgery in 1992, and suffered a mild heart attack in 1994. Sharif had smoked 50 cigarettes a day; after the surgery, he quit easily.[citation needed] Sharif then met his now close friend and lawyer Nabil Mounir. When Sharif visits Egypt, he stays in Nabil Mounir's residence in Cairo, Egypt. Sharif met Mounir at the same hospital where he had his surgery; Mounir was there because his wife was in labor. They met through a mutual friend, Naguib Mahfouz, who would divide his time between both men's hospital rooms. From that day on, Sharif and Mounir became very close friends. They both attended their mutual friend's funeral in 2006 at the El-Rashdan Mosque in Nasr City.

Criminal conviction

On August 5, 2003, he received a one-month suspended prison sentence for striking a police officer in a suburban Parisian casino in July. He was fined the equivalent of $1,700 (USD) and ordered to pay the officer the equivalent of $340 in damages. (He had insulted and then head-butted the Pontoise policeman, who tried to intervene in an argument between the actor and a roulette croupier.)[citation needed] On February 13, 2007 Sharif was "found guilty of assaulting a Beverly Hills parking lot attendant and breaking his nose".[24]

Doha Tribeca Film Festival

On November 27, Omar Sharif became irritated with a woman who was queued up to have her photo taken with him on the red carpet at Doha Tribeca Film Festival. It appeared that he struck her, but after a moment he turned and leaned in to smile warmly for a picture with her.[25]

Political views

Sharif said the East will never have a democracy because people like him prefer to go to the neighborhood chief. In the interview, Sharif reportedly blasted U.S. policy in Iraq and said Americans are ignorant. Sharif also claimed to have spoken with U.S President George W. Bush before the beginning of the Iraq War, telling him that Arabs were not like westerners and that Arab states were made up of sects resistant to becoming democratized.[26][27]

Views on religion

In an interview conducted with The Daily News Egypt, Omar Sharif mentioned his views on religion, and religious people:

When one sees what happens in the world between the religions, the different religions - killing each other and murdering each other, it's disgusting and as far as I am concerned it's ridiculous. So I thought I might be useful, I believe in God and I believe in religion, but believe religions should belong to you. The extraordinary thing is that the Jews believe that only the Jews can go to paradise, the Christians believe that only a Christian can go to paradise and the Muslims believe that only the Muslims can go to paradise. Now why should God, in his great justice, make somebody born that cannot go to paradise - it is absurd. Please forgive me I don't mean to say it's absurd, people made it absurd.[28]


In November 2005, he was given a medal by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in recognition of his significant contributions to world film and cultural diversity. The medal—which is handed out very infrequently—is named after Russian director Sergei Eisenstein and can only be given out a total of 25 times by Russia's Mosfilm.


  • Oh Heavenly Dog (1980)
  • The Baltimore Bullet (1980)
  • Pleasure Palace (1980)
  • Green Ice (1981)
  • Top Secret! (1984)
  • Peter the Great (TV series) (1986)
  • Harem (1986), as Sultan Hassan
  • Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (TV series) (1986)
  • The Possessed (1988)
  • Al-aragoz (the puppeteer) (1989)
  • The Opium Connection (1990)
  • The Rainbow Thief (1990)
  • Memories of Midnight (1991)
  • Mowaten masri (An Egyptian Citizen) (1991)
  • Beyond Justice (1992)
  • Grand Larceny (1992)
  • Mayrig (1992)
  • 588 rue paradis (1992)
  • Dehk we le'b we gad we hob (Laughter, Games, Seriousness and Love) (1993)
  • Lie Down With Lions (1994)
  • Catherine the Great (1995)
  • Gulliver's Travels (1996)
  • Heaven Before I Die (1997)
  • Mysteries of Egypt (1998)
  • The 13th Warrior (1999)
  • The Parole Officer (2001)
  • Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran (2003)
  • Hidalgo (2004)
  • Imperium: St Peter (2005)
  • Fuoco su di me (2005)
  • Shaka Zulu: The Last Great Warrior (2005)
  • One Night with the King (2006)
  • The Crown Prince (2006)
  • Hanan W Haneen (TV Series - Egypt) (2007)
  • The Ten Commandments (TV series) (2007) Jethro
  • The Last Templar (TV Series) (2008)
  • Hassan & Marcus (2008)
  • 10,000 BC (2008)
  • The Traveller (2009)
  • J'ai oublié de te dire (2009)
  • La Traversée du désir (2009)


  • The Eternal Male (1977)
  • Omar Sharif's Life in Bridge (1983)
  • Omar Sharif talks Bridge (2004)
  • Bridge Deluxe II play with Omar Sharif (Instruction manual)


  1. ^ {{, converted to Islam in 1955 when he married Egyptian actress Faten Hamama,As of his personal life, he was born Michael Shalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, to Egyptian Catholic parents. In a 4 September 2009 television program on Nile Cinema, Omar specifically denied published claims that his family had originated in Lebanon as often reported, and affirmed that his parents and all his grandparents were born in Egypt. He recalled spending time in his childhood in his maternal grandparents’ home in Tanta, Egypt. He was very attached to his grandmother, ‘Abla Abdallah, who lived for more than 100 years. He graduated from Alexandria’s Victoria College, then from Cairo University with a mathematics and physics major. .}}
    {{cite news|title=Omar Sharif is 70 today|publisher=Birmingham Post|date=October 10, 2002|quote=Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, />"Omar Sharif in bid to promote South African tourism". Agence France Presse. February 6, 1995. "The actor, who is Egyptian-Lebanese descent" 
    "AP Interview: Egyptian-born movie legend credits grandsons' teasing for career rebound". Associated Press. "born as Michel Shalhoub to affluent Christian Lebanese-Syrian parents and later converted to Islam." 
    "Omar Sharif's back". The Toronto Star. September 9, 2003. "He was born Michael Shalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, on April 10, 1932, the son of a wealthy Lebanese-Egyptian family." 
    "Star Watch". Associated Press. May 19, 1995. "Of Lebanese parentage, he was born Michael Shalhoub in Alexandria and attended college in Cairo." 
    "AP Interview: Egyptian-born movie legend wants to send message in his new movies". Associated Press. October 28, 2005. "born in Alexandria, Egypt as Michel Shalhoub to affluent Christian Lebanese-Syrian parents and later converted to Islam." 
  2. ^ Said, Edward W. (1999), Out of Place, Vintage Books, NY, 1st Ed., p. 201.
  3. ^ "Change of Subject - Observations, reports, tips, referrals and tirades Chicago Tribune Blog". Chicago Tribune. September 6, 2005. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Omar Sharif sued for assault". (November 6, 2005). New Sunday Times, p. 29.
  6. ^ ReelTalk Movie Reviews
  7. ^,9171,,00.html "Q&A With Omar Sharif" (December 8, 2003). Rebecca Winters, .
  8. ^ Sharif, Omar (1977), The Eternal Male: My Own Story, Doubleday, NY, 1st Ed., p. 41.
  9. ^ Sharif, Omar (1977), The Eternal Male: My Own Story, Doubleday, NY, 1st Ed., pp. 45-46.
  10. ^ Sharif, Omar (1977), The Eternal Male: My Own Story, Doubleday, NY, 1st Ed., p. 46.
  11. ^ Sharif, Omar (1977), The Eternal Male: My Own Story, Doubleday, NY, 1st Ed., p. 98.
  12. ^ Al-Jazeerah English: Riz Khan Interview with Omar Sharif Time. 11:25. 2007-10-10
  13. ^ Al-Jazeerah English: Riz Khan Interview with Omar Sharif. Time 6:15. 2007-10-10
  14. ^ Sharif, Omar (1977), The Eternal Male: My Own Story, Doubleday, NY, 1st Ed., p. 79.
  15. ^ Sharif, Omar (1977), The Eternal Male: My Own Story, Doubleday, NY, 1st Ed., p. 71.
  16. ^ Al-Jazeerah English: Riz Khan Interview with Omar Sharif. Time 5:40. 2007-10-10
  17. ^ Al-Jazeerah English: Riz Khan Interview with Omar Sharif. Time 10:00. 2007-10-10
  18. ^ Orbit: Cairo Today Interview with Omar Sharif Part 1/5. Time 9:30. 2007-10-10
  19. ^ They are two of the greatest names in film history
  20. ^ Al-Jazeerah English: Riz Khan Interview with Omar Sharif. Time 11:30. 2007-10-10
  21. ^ Al-Jazeerah English: Riz Khan Interview with Omar Sharif. Time 12:50. 2007-10-10
  22. ^ When Kirk met Omar: A Hollywood story
  23. ^ Introducing Omar Sharif Jr. | Film | The Advocate
  24. ^ Omar Sharif guilty of punch attack
  25. ^
  26. ^ Actor Omar Sharif Says Arab Nations Will Never Be Democratized
  27. ^ Orbit: Cairo Today Interview with Omar Sharif Part 5/5. Time 5:45. 2007-10-10
  28. ^ YouTube - Omar Sharif on acting, religion, and the future

External links

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