Remembering Omar Sharif, A Star In Two Skies : The Two-Way Legendary Egyptian actor Omar Sharif has died at the age of 83. He became a global star in the 1960s with films like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago — but his career started in Cairo.

Remembering Omar Sharif, A Star In Two Skies

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Omar Sharif was one of the few Arab actors to ever make it big in Hollywood, and he was huge. He was essential to two of the most epic movies of the 1960s. He played opposite Peter O'Toole in "Lawrence Of Arabia," and had the title role in "Doctor Zhivago." Omar Sharif died today at the age of 83. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin has our remembrance.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: World audiences met Omar Sharif on the back of a camel, dressed as a Bedouin - headscarf, robes. He rides towards a well, where O'Toole, as Lawrence of Arabia, and his guide are drinking. From his camel, Sharif shoots the guide.


SIMMONS-DUFFIN: As Omar Sharif emerges from the desert, you see that here is an actor who looks nothing like the movie stars audiences were used to, like the blonde, blue-eyed O'Toole. Sharif is handsome, with a square face, dark, moody eyes and that signature mustache, and he has an accent.


OMAR SHARIF: (As Sherif Ali) He was nothing. The well is everything. The Hazimi may not drink at our wells.

JACK SHAHEEN: The scene at the well is a clip, whenever they show the Academy Awards, that's used continuously.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Film scholar Jack Shaheen says this brutal scene is iconic, but it doesn't do justice to Sharif's performance.

SHAHEEN: He's really sort of like the non-violent second protagonist of the film. He's articulate. He's sensitive. He's bright. He shows compassion for other people.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: And you can see how his relationship to this Englishman becomes much richer over the course of the movie.


ANTHONY QUINN: (As Auda Abu Tayi) He is your friend?

SHARIF: (As Sherif Ali) Take your hand away.

QUINN: (As Auda Abu Tayi) You love him.

SHARIF: (As Sherif Ali) No, I fear him.

QUINN: (As Auda Abu Tayi) Then why do you weep?

SHARIF: (As Sherif Ali) If I fear him or love him, how must he fear himself or hate himself?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: He was selected by David Lean not to portray the stereotypical Arab - the Arab sheik, the Arab terrorist, the Arab buffoon. Rather, in "Lawrence of Arabia," you have a bona fide Arab freedom fighter. And this is 1962, at the time of Nasser, when, you know, being an Egyptian actor was not very popular, and yet he took, I think, audiences by storm.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: He may have seemed, to Hollywood audiences, to have appeared out of nowhere. Actually, Sharif had already done 20-some dramatic black-and-white films in Cairo, the film capital of the Arab world. In this film from early in his career, "Dark Waters," he's already so natural on screen. Here, he's just back from a long trip at sea, handing out gifts to his mom and his girlfriend.


SHARIF: (As Ragab, foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character, foreign language spoken).

SHARIF: (As Ragab, foreign language spoken).

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Even in his Arabic films, there's a clue he was going for international appeal. His billing - Omar Sharif was not the name given to him by his well-to-do Catholic parents.


SHARIF: My name was Michel - Michel, it was.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Michel Shalhoub, to be exact, as he told NPR in 2012. In his memoir, he wrote he wanted an Arab-sounding name that was easy to pronounce in different languages - essential to a man who spoke Arabic, and also...


SHARIF: I went to the school where the priests are French. And then after, when I was 9 or 8 years old, I went to an English school, thank God. And there was a theater there and that's how I started to become an actor.

ASAAD KELADA: The fact that his preparation was multicultural, he was able to travel from nationality to nationality with conviction in the roles that he played.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That's Asaad Kelada, an Egyptian director.

KELADA: And so he was really the go-to person for any role that was of an exotic or different nature at that time.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: For his next big film after "Lawrence Of Arabia," he transforms from that Arab freedom fighter to a Russian poet in Revolutionary times named Doctor Zhivago. He treats patients and navigates politics, dotes on his wife and dreams with his mistress.


JULIE CHRISTIE: (As Lara) If we'd had children, Yuri, would you've liked a boy or girl?

SHARIF: (As Doctor Zhivago) I think we may go mad if we think about all that.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Jack Shaheen says that over the course of his decades-long career, the range of his roles only expanded.

SHAHEEN: Well, he played Che Guevara. He played a German officer and a Turkish Muslim and the Jew Nicky Arnstein.


BARBRA STREISAND: (Singing) Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein, what a beautiful, beautiful name.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That would be Barbra Streisand in the musical "Funny Girl" from the late '60s. She plays an enterprising comic. He's her love interest, a dark and handsome gambler.


SHARIF: (As Nicky Arnstein) You...

STREISAND: (As Fanny Brice) Huh?

SHARIF: (As Nicky Arnstein, singing) I am man. You are smaller, so I can be taller than...

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Though it may have been a stretch for him in some ways, the role of Nicky Arnstein had some echoes of Omar Sharif's real life. That's because outside of acting, playing cards was his other love. He authored a slew of books and even made an instructional video.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: You're invited to play bridge with Omar Sharif.

SHARIF: Hello. You probably recognize my face.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So in "Funny Girl," during the poker scenes...


SHARIF: (As Nicky Arnstein) Two.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: ...It can feel like you're glimpsing Sharif doing both things he loved at once.


SHARIF: (As Nicky Arnstein) I've got three kings here.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I thought you were bluffing.

SHARIF: (As Nicky Arnstein) This distinguished, in expert company? I wouldn't dare.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Delightful though it was, "Funny Girl" caused some political ripples when it came out in 1968. Here was an Egyptian actor singing duets and kissing a Jewish woman, not long after the Six-Day War. Again, Egyptian director Asaad Kelada.

KELADA: That caused him a lot of trouble at home, but as an artist, he played that role of Nicky Arnstein and was able to make it accessible and believable to audiences worldwide.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Omar Sharif will be remembered for making that remarkable leap from Cairo to Hollywood and on to a place in history as one of the most famous movie stars of this time. Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News.

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