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Friday, July 10, 2015

RIP, Nicky Arnstein and Dr Zhivago

May he forever walk in peace through that great sunflower garden in the sky. Academy Award nominated and three-time Golden Globe winning actor Omar Sharif has died of a heart attack at age 83. He also suffered, late in life, from Alzheimer's Disease.

The suave, debonair actor was swept to success by his combination of talent and sex appeal. Born to a well-to-do Catholic family in Egypt as Michel Dimitri Chalhoub, he later converted to Islam to marry actress Faten Hamama.

He began his career in Egyptian films before making his breakthrough role in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. He went on to star opposite Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl and Julie Andrews in The Tamarind Seed. Lean cast him again in the titular role in Dr. Zhivago. In '60s Hollywood, who cared if you were Egyptian or Eastern European as long as you had an accent.

Many Arab countries banned Funny Girl because  of Shatif's playing a Jewish character. Said Streisand at the time, "You think Cairo was upset? You should see the letter I got from my Aunt Rose!" She told the press today:

“Omar was my first leading man in the movies. He was handsome, sophisticated and charming. He was a proud Egyptian and in some people’s eyes, the idea of casting him in Funny Girl was considered controversial. Yet somehow, under the direction of William Wyler, the romantic chemistry between Nicky Arnstein and Fanny Brice transcended stereotypes and prejudice. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Omar, and I’m profoundly sad to hear of his passing.”

Of his co-star, Mr Sharif had said, "I was madly in love with her. I thought she was the most gorgeous girl I'd ever seen in my life.... I was lusting after her."