Omar Sharif, The Last of the Great Leading Men

Omar Sharif

Il est décédé…

This morning I learned that actor Omar Sharif passed away.

My father met Sharif when he was a student in the South of France, in the 1970’s.  Although it was a brief encounter, my father never forgets that story. One day Omar heard my father play his accordion to a group of patrons. He told me Omar was the most generous patron, giving him quite a surprising amount for his musical performance.

My father playing his accordion this past August (2014).

My father learned to play the accordion back in his village in Serbia as a young boy. He brought his accordion to France with him and made an income while he was earning his Masters in Agro-Economics, playing to restaurant and café goers.

Although Sharif was from a different generation, he was a part of some of the most internationally esteemed films. A child of a classic movie watching family, I watched those great films and they became my favorites. As you grow up you learn about people that came before you, and what they mean to your parents and others. Sharif made a global imprint, and although he is not so much a part of the American memory bank, the rest of the world (especially France and Egypt) still remember him and see him as one of the last great movie stars. His truly changed how the world viewed what a leading man should look like, much as Rudolph Valentino or Johnny Depp did. With his rich dark features and soulful eyes, he could play any man, and this universal appeal made him much loved around the world. His will be forever the memory of a man who transcended cultures and ethnic groups. The analogy I like to use is, he was like the Egyptian Cary Grant.

It was interesting to learn that for years he wrote a syndicated newspaper column on bridge. I remember once as a child finding one of his columns in the Chicago Tribune one Sunday, while looking for the funnie pages. Sharif loved to gamble, and especially play bridge.

The last film I saw him in was Monsieur Ibrahim (2003), which won him the distingushed César award for Best Actor. Our American equivalent to the Oscar.

Source: AFP

I almost want to cry, remembering how at the end of Dr. Zhivago (1965), his character dies the same way it was reported Sharif died. Heart attack. The ending of that film is heart wrenching. You don’t know if his character was hallucinating or if indeed Lara, the love of his life, was in fact really there… It’s an odd feeling when someone dies whom we’ve never met, yet has some how touched us and made an impression. They were never in your life, and yet they were.