Film legend Omar Sharif gets solemn sendoff in Egypt

Film legend Omar Sharif gets solemn sendoff in Egypt
Mourners pray next to the coffin of Egyptian actor Omar Sharif during his funeral at the Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi Mosque in Cairo.
PHOTO: Reuters

CAIRO - Close friends and family paid respects Sunday to cinema legend Omar Sharif, who will forever be remembered as the eponymous "Doctor Zhivago", at a solemn funeral in his native Egypt.

Sharif, 83, died on Friday of a heart attack in an upmarket Cairo clinic after a struggle with Alzheimer's disease.

The funeral was held at the grand mosque of Mushir Tantawi in an eastern neighbourhood of the Egyptian capital, where key religious ceremonies are often held.

Sharif's remains were later buried at El Sayeda Nafisa cemetery in the city's south.

The service was attended by a group of Sharif's relatives, friends and Egyptian actors, an AFP correspondent reported.

His body was in a casket draped in the Egyptian flag and a black shroud.

Journalists outnumbered mourners, and there was no sign of any Hollywood stars at the memorial service, which was attended by Culture Minister Abdel-Wahed El-Nabawi.

"Omar Sharif represented Egypt to the world in the best possible way," said Hussein Fahmy, a popular Egyptian actor who attended the funeral.

Zahi Hawass, the prominent archaeologist and former Egyptian antiquities minister, said he had "lost a close friend" while "the world lost a great actor".

Sharif's death came six months after that of his ex-wife and iconic Egyptian actress, Faten Hamama, known as the "Lady of the Arabic Screen".

Among those attending the funeral was 75-year-old fan Mohamed al-Bassiuny.

"These people are valuable and respectable. They are historic and everyone loved them," said Bassiuny referring to Sharif and Hamama, whose funeral he had also attended.

Born Michel Demitri Shalhoub, a Christian, Sharif converted to Islam to marry Hamama - who he described as the only love of his life.

The couple had a son, Tarek, who was sombre during Sunday's funeral.

They divorced in 1974 when Sharif, already famous in his homeland, launched a career in Hollywood.

He never remarried.

The winner of two Golden Globe awards and an Oscar nomination for his role as Sherif Ali in David Lean's 1962 epic "Lawrence of Arabia," Sharif captivated audiences worldwide for more than half a century.

Sharif was known for his debonair style, raffish good looks and often mischievous joie de vivre, but he will be remembered forever as the eponymous "Doctor Zhivago".

Avid Bridge player

Tributes poured in after the news of Sharif's death.

"He was handsome, sophisticated and charming. He was a proud Egyptian," Barbra Streisand, who starred alongside Sharif in 1968's "Funny Girl", wrote on Facebook.

"I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Omar, and I'm profoundly sad to hear of his passing," the American actress said.

Fluent in six languages and also famous for his skills at playing the card game bridge, Sharif began acting in the 1950s.

His most high-profile roles were in the 1960s when he won an Oscar nomination for "Lawrence of Arabia" and Golden Globes for the same film and for "Doctor Zhivago".

Sharif played the hero in the epic adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel of tortured passions during the Russian Revolution, with son Tarek playing his younger self.

Sharif kept working over the following decades, often in television movies, and in later years became equally renowned for his prowess as a bridge player and owner of thoroughbred racehorses.

"I'd rather be playing bridge than making a bad movie," he once said, before announcing in 2006 that he had given up the game.

Sharif had a triple heart bypass in 1992 and suffered a mild heart attack in 1994, according to the IMDb movie database website. The 100-cigarettes-a-day smoker quit after the operation.

Sharif made something of a comeback in 2003 in the title role of the French film "Monsieur Ibrahim", playing an elderly Muslim shopkeeper.

The performance won him a best actor award at the Venice Film Festival and the best actor Cesar, France's equivalent of an Oscar.

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