Omar Sharif, the wonderfully talented Egyptian actor who brought Doctor Yuri Zhivago to life, died of a heart attack yesterday in Cairo. He was 83 years old, and had been recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
(There’s wonderful remembrance of Mr Sharif at NPR, here.)
Mr Sharif has a special place in my heart, because he was my maternal grandmother’s favorite actor. This was not only because of his talent, which was duly appreciated by mi abuelita, but because he resembled my late grandfather.
This resemblance was very marked, and held throughout Mr Sharif’s life–photographs of my grandfather in his late sixties are very close to those of the actor at a similar age. Eerily so, in fact, down to the slighly gap toothed smile (which, interestingly, has never appeared again in the family).
This was particularly important for my grandmother because there were no photographs of her late husband as a young man.
I have mentioned before elsewhere that my grandfather was over two decades older than her. He died when she was in her forties, and she lived almost four decades longer, loving and missing him every day of her life.
My grandfather was born in the 1890s, the son of a very wealthy family. My great grandfather was a terrateniente¹ in the state of Veracruz, in the Gulf of Mexico. His father was killed in the early years of the Mexican Revolution, making mi abuelo the de facto head of the family well before he turned twenty. He was also a wanted man, who survived two attempts on his life before he fled, with the clothes on his back, and his mother and younger siblings hidden under straw in the open horse-drawn cart he drove from Córdoba to Mexico City.²
By the the time the fighting was over, and the political situation settled, the new government had seized most of the family’s property. Only a handful of personal family items ever made it back to them (such as a faded photograph of my grandfather as a lovely, golden haired boy of about five, and a set of silver brush, comb and mirror from his mother).
And so, my grandmother only knew what the man she loved throughout her life would have looked like before they met, by watching Mr Sharif’s work.
Thank you, Omar Sharif, for all the joy you brought to one of the most important, and sorely missed, women in my life.
~ * ~
¹ If this story was set in Ireland, mi abuelo would have been the son of the British aristocrat landowner.
² This is not a short trip, by the way; now imagine doing it with a hysterical, fairly helpless mother, two girls under ten, and a fourteen year old boy, by turns scared spitless and defiantly surly. (Family lore.)