Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor best known for Hollywood epics, has reportedly died of a heart attack in Cairo. He was 83.
Sharif was often cast for his good looks and ability to pass as countless nationalities. Over the years he played Arabian (“Lawrence of Arabia”), Russian (“Doctor Zhivago”), Mongolian (“Genghis Khan”), Cuban (“Che!”), Spanish (“Behold a Pale Horse”) and more still.
But he was a sometimes underrated actor of great brooding and depth. In his Hollywood debut, “Lawrence of Arabia” — a gig he scored after a decade of films in his native Egypt — he acts as the conscience haunting the lead character, growing disillusioned with his hubris and self-destruction. He scored an Oscar nomination for his angry and sometimes funny turn.
Director David Lean cast him again in “Doctor Zhivago,” and he brought a real anguish to his performance as a man whose passion for a woman (Julie Christie) is interrupted by the undoing of his country. Still, Hollywood wasn’t always sure what to do with him. He did the romantic partner bit several times, as he did opposite Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.” He was mostly tasked with coasting on his dashing gravitas in Richard Lester’s excellent sort-of-disaster movie “Juggernaut,” as the captain of a cruise ship targeted by a terrorist.
Later in his career he was cast primarily on the hugeness of his legend, swinging by for mentor and cameo roles in films like “The 13th Warrior” and “Hidalgo.” He even did the occasional comedy bit, as in “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” and, most memorably, a very, very, hilariously brief bit in the ZAZ parody “Top Secret!”
He did, in 2003, win a Cesar, the French equivalent of the Oscar, for “Monsieur Ibrahim,” an intimate drama in which he played a Turkish man in Paris who helps out a teenager. The role allowed him to showcase talents that weren’t always tapped, finally aging to the point where you could see the depths underneath the handsome exterior.
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