“No one in the world is called Omar Sharif, I shall call you Fred!” apparently said Peter O’Toole and Omar who had once been Michael became Fred. He might once have been Hollywood’s go to guy for the quintessential Arab sheikh, slightly dissipated and roguish but loyally attached to his friends and his livestock, a character he played well past its use by date in Hidalgo(2004), but my favourite Sharif film is that one where he co-starred with the Russian Revolution and Julie Christie.
He himself seems to have been perpetually amazed at his success; saying about the film he did with O’Toole; who will go to see three hours and forty minutes of desert and no girls! He claimed have seen nothing but Billy Elliot and ET in the last quarter of a century and I wonder whether he saw himself in either of the two fairy tale films.
He might have replaced Gable as the moustache that many women would not have minded tickling their upper lips but he referred to his relationships with them as communion. Which is probably not as bad as it sounds at first reading.
He grew old behind the scenes, away from the public eye and the most recent stories about him were about Sharif the gambler and inveterate bridge and poker player. Now that he has passed at the age of 83, I am glad that he left us films such as Tamarind Seed where he played another Russian opposite another Julie, in addition to the big names everyone knows.
Oddly touching is a quote listed by one of the British papers; he said of his hands that they were old but soft, fit only for caressing. And that I like to think is the legacy Sharif the actor leaves for a lot of people like me; a good guy, a lover, a gentleman.