Brow Beat

Omar Sharif, Star of Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, Is Dead at 83

Omar Sharif in Doctor Zhivago

Omar Sharif as the title character in Doctor Zhivago.

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Omar Sharif, best known for his starring roles in Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, has died at 83. Born in Egypt, Sharif spent his early adult years acting in films in his home country, but his breakthrough performance came in David Lean’s 1962 epic about the adventures of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), in which he played Sherif Ali. (In an interview with NPR a few years ago, Sharif laughed about the fact that he was “30 years old” when he made his first film outside of Egypt, “and I only went to another desert very close to it to play in Lawrence of Arabia.”) His entrance in the film, in which he appears as a distant, lone figure on horseback and shoots Lawrence’s Arab guide, gave him a memorable introduction for the audiences of the rest of the film-going world.

His succesful relationship with Lean continued when Sharif starred in the title role of Doctor Zhivago, this time playing a Russian doctor in the equally epic war romance. Half a century later, the film remains the eighth-highest grossing film of all time. Many other roles in Hollywood movies followed—perhaps most notably his performance as Jewish gambler Nicky Arnstein opposite Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl (along with its follow up, Funny Lady). But Sharif knew that it was his collaborations with Lean that made him a global star: “They’re my only two good films,” he told NPR around the 50th anniversary of Lawrence. “I don’t consider that I have any other film that was good for me.”