Omar Sharif, well known for starring acting roles in classic films like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, has been diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease. But, it was his starring role in 1968 as Nick Arnstein in Funny Girl opposite Barbara Streisand that most closely resembled his peripatetic, gambler’s life.
In his 1960s heyday, the Egyptian born Sharif was the iconic screen heartthrob with his dark looks, worldly accent reflecting the fact that he spoke several languages. He was also known for a string of love affairs with his co-stars and other beauties of the day. Lastly, Sharif was known for squandering his fortune losing millions at gaming tables around the world.
His son, Tareq Sharif, made the announcement this weekend about his 83-year-old father. The actor, who was last in a feature film in 2013, is living in his native Egypt, where after a lifetime of luxury hotels in glamorous resorts he reportedly is staying in a more budget-friendly Red Sea-area tourist hostel.
Sharif was born Michel Demitri Shalhoub on April 10, 1932, in Alexandria, Egypt, where his father was a rich lumber merchant and his mom a gambler. Of Syrian and Lebanese extraction, the future star was raised as a Catholic. His parents did not want their son to be an actor, so he studied mathematics and physics at Cairo University before applying to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London.
The future star never made it to RADA. In 1954, he was cast in an Arabic film at the suggestion of the female lead, Faten Hamama, a Muslim who was the top actress in Eqypt. To save his parents the embarrassment of his chosen profession, Michel Shalhoub became Omar Sharif. He also converted to Islam, married Hamama in 1955, made about more than a dozen movies with her and they had Tariq in 1957.
Sharif made his English-language film debut in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which brought him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and international fame. That was followed by dozens of movies in English, including his most famous U.S. roles in Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Funny Girl (1968); French, including the lead in Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran (2003), for which he won the César (France’s version of an Oscar); Italian; Spanish; Greek and more Arabic roles.
Sharif and Hamama separated in 1965 and divorced almost a decade later. During that time, he had well-known romances with Streisand, Ingrid Bergman, Tuesday Weld, Catherine Deneuve, and several other women. He never remarried.
His other two loves defined his later years: bridge and gambling. Sharif had a reputation in the 1960s as one of the world’s best-known contract bridge players. He later co-wrote a syndicated newspaper bridge column, wrote several books on bridge and licensed his name for Omar Sharif Bridge, a computer game on the market since 1992.
His other passion, gambling, was his downfall. He traveled the world living in hotel after hotel hitting local casinos. He said, “I was a lonely man living out of suitcases in hotels and when you arrive in a new place and you don’t know anyone, the only place where you can go if you’re a well known person to have dinner alone is a casino.” He then added, “You play a little bit to give yourself some emotion to fight the boredom of being by yourself, get some excitement. That’s all.” As he admitted many times in the last decade, he leads a lonely life now.
There were rumors about memory problems for several years on film sets. According to the Daily Mail, Tariq was forced to deal with his father’s state when, after Hamama died, he kept asking about her. Then he announced that his father, Omar Sharif, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
By Dyanne Weiss
IMDB: Omar Sharif
Daily Mail: He seduced a string of beauties but lost his one true love – and his fortune. As it’s revealed Omar Sharif has Alzheimer’s..
Los Angeles Times: Actor Omar Sharif has Alzheimer’s disease, his agent confirms