Omar Sharif’s charisma and talent knew no boundaries.
The late star's grandson Omar Sharif Jr. recalls to Closer about co-starring with the legendary actor as Irishmen in the upcoming movie The Secret Scripture: “The first day of filming, the director said, ‘I hope you guys perfected your Irish accents.’ I looked at my grandfather and said, ‘Two Arabs are about to play Irish?’ And he said, ‘Welcome to my life.’”
And what a life it was. Born Michel Chalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1932, he became one of cinema’s first truly international leading men in the 1960s after changing his name to Omar Sharif. “He really transcended cultures and stereotypes,” says Omar Jr. “He played everything from a Russian to an Arab to a Jew to a Cuban.” In more recent years, his career declined, and for the last decade of his life, he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease before passing away from a heart attack at age 83 in a Cairo hospital on July 10.
Omar and Barbra Streisand in 1974. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Omar worked in his family’s lumber business before heading to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. He made his debut in Egyptian films in 1954, meeting his one and only wife, Faten Hamama, on the set of Struggle in the Valley. His big break came in 1962 when director David Lean cast him as the titular soldier’s comrade Sherif Ali in the epic Lawrence of Arabia.
Omar earned an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe, and reunited with Lean three years later in the title role of the Russian Revolution–era romance Doctor Zhivago. “He brought a sense of cachet and culture to world cinema,” reveals New York Daily News chief film critic Joe Neumaier. “His appeal made him a very specific and sexy kind of hero.”
Omar with Samantha Eggar after winning Golden Globes in 1966. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
His sex appeal hit its peak when he wooed Barbra Streisand in the 1968 musical Funny Girl — and in real life. “I fell madly in love with her talent and her personality,” said Omar, who was married at the time (as was she, to Elliott Gould). “The feeling was mutual for four months — the time it took to shoot the picture.”
Now Omar’s fans and family are mourning his loss. “My grandfather belonged to his fans,” Omar Jr. says.
To read the full story on Omar, pick up the new issue of 'Closer Weekly' on newsstands now!
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