Omar Sharif was romantic. He was classy. He was emotional and witty. He was silly and friendly. He was goofy. Omar Sharif was, thanks to Doctor Zhivago, an international sex symbol of the 1960s. No woman who were of the right age when Zhivago was released did not have a crush on Sharif. For a while there, the dashing and romantic Egyptian actor rivaled his handsome Lawrence of Arabia co-star Peter O’Toole for sheer drop-dead matinee idol heartthrobbiness.
But Sharif wasn’t serious all the time. My first exposure to the actor was his brief role in 1984’s underrated slapstick classic Top Secret!, wherein Sharif was seen smoking exploding cigars, and who was eventually crushed inside a car. Don’t worry, though. He lived long enough to waddle around in the cubed hull, peeking out through a face-shaped opening.
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Sharif was an actor of great range, unlimited charm, and limitless comedic chops. Throughout the 1960s, he was a go-to “exotic” type. And he comfortable being the exotic one. Indeed, his Egyptian heritage was highlighted by his stage name; his birth name is the less romantic “Michel Shalhoub.” Throughout the 1970s, Sharif starred in a string of high-profile and often very penetrating dramas. Though he would often break character to appear in a comedy film or two, such as 1974’s The Pink Panther Strikes Again, perhaps the funniest in that series. Throughout the 1980s, Sharif began to appear in more and more comedies, displaying a Leslie Nielsen-like talent for deadpan delivery in the face of absurd situations.
In 2003, Sharif received a César for playing the lead role in Monsieur Ibrahim, but would still dip into the glorious lands of Hollywood schlock like 10,000 B.C. and The 13th Warrior in and around his more “serious” work. He was, in short, a professional. A charming, lovely, funny professional. His presence will be missed.