BBC reports that Omar Sharif died earlier today of a heart attack at a hospital in Cairo. The immense Hollywood icon was best known for his Golden Globe-winning and Oscar nominated role in Lawrence of Arabia, as well as his titular role in Doctor Zhivago.
Some of the Egypt-born actor’s other key contributions to cinema include his portrayal of Nicky Arnstein (opposite Barbara Streisand) in Funny Girl and Monsieur Ibrahim Deneji in Monsieur Ibrahim. Though Lawrence gave Sharif (who was born Michel Demitri Chalhoub) his Hollywood break, he’d already appeared in over 20 films made in Cairo. Throughout his career, as the first Arab film actor to achieve his level of worldwide fame, he was burdened by all forms of narrow-minded controversy — with Columbia execs almost giving his role in Funny Girl to someone else when the Six Day War broke out between Israel and Arab countries, Egypt included, and, on the other side, with the Egyptian press attempting to get his citizenship revoked for his romantic role opposite a Jewish woman.
Recently, it was confirmed that the actor was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, with his son Tarek El-Sharif stating that this was why he retired from acting (though the actor had, himself, said he wanted to devote himself , and that he’d been mixing up the titles of his films. His death is surely a huge personal loss for his family (he’s also survived by two grandsons), and is already tangible among anyone aware of his magnetic talent and importance to film history.