Omar Sharif, the legendary actor who burst on to the U.S. film scene with his role in “Lawrence of Arabia,” died today in a hospital in Cairo after he suffered a heart attack, his agent told FOX411. He was 83.
Sharif earned an Academy Award nomination for his role in the 1962 film, his first English-language role. He won the Golden Globe that year for Best Supporting Actor and New Star of the Year. Still Sharif, who was Egypt's biggest box-office star when director David Lean cast him, was not the director's first choice to play Sherif Ali, the tribal leader with whom the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence teams up to help lead the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire.
Lean had hired another actor but dropped him because his eyes weren't the right color. The film's producer, Sam Spiegel, went to Cairo to search for a replacement and found Sharif. After passing a screen test that proved he was fluent in English, he got the job.
His entrance in the movie was stunning. He was first seen in the distance, a speck in the swirling desert sand. As he drew closer, he emerged first as a black figure on a galloping camel, slowly transforming into a handsome, dark-eyed figure with a gap-tooth smile.
Three years later, Sharif demonstrated his versatility, playing the leading role of a doctor-poet who endures decades of Russian history, including World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, surviving on his art and his love for his beloved Lara in "Dr. Zhivago."
Lean's adaptation of the Boris Pasternak novel had a rocky beginning in its first U.S. release. Attendance was sparse and reviews were negative.
After MGM removed it from theaters and Lean re-edited the sprawling tale, it was re-released and became a box-office hit. Still, Sharif never thought it was as good as it could have been.
"It's sentimental. Too much of that music," he once said, referring to Maurice Jarre's luscious Oscar-winning score.
Although Sharif never achieved that level of success again, he remained a sought-after actor for many years, partly because of his proficiency at playing different nationalities.
He was Argentine-born revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara in "Che!", Italian Marco Polo in "Marco the Magnificent" and Mongol leader Genghis Khan in "Genghis Khan." He was a German officer in "The Night of the Generals," an Austrian prince in "Mayerling" and a Mexican outlaw in "Mackenna's Gold."
He was also the Jewish gambler Nick Arnstein opposite Barbra Streisand's Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl." The 1968 film was banned in his native Egypt because he was cast as a Jew.
In his middle years Sharif began appearing in such films as "The Pink Panther Strikes Again," ''Oh Heavenly Dog!," ''The Baltimore Bullet" and others he dismissed as "rubbish."
The drought lasted so long that finally, beginning in the late 1990s, Sharif began declining all film offers.
"I lost my self-respect and dignity," he told a reporter in 2004. "Even my grandchildren were making fun of me. 'Grandpa, that was really bad. And this one? It's worse.'"
In 2003 he accepted a role in the French film "Monsieur Ibrahim," portraying a Muslim shopkeeper in Paris who adopts a Jewish boy.
The role won him the Cesar, the French equivalent of the Oscar, and he followed with "Hidalgo," a lively western starring Viggo Mortensen. In that one he was a desert sheik who duels 11 assailants with a sword. His career was back on track.
He suffered a public embarrassment in 2007, however, when he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery and was ordered to take an anger management course for punching a parking valet who refused to accept his European currency.
Born Michael Shalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, Sharif was the son of Syrian-Lebanese parents.
After working three years at his father's lumber company, he fulfilled his longtime ambition to become a movie actor, going on to appear in nearly two dozen Egyptian films under the name Omar el Sharif.
His fame only increased when he married Egypt's movie queen, Faten Hamama, in 1955. They had a son, Tarek, and divorced in 1974.
In 2004 Sharif acknowledged that he also had another son, who was born after a one-night stand with an interviewer.
Away from the movies, Sharif was a world-class bridge player who for many years wrote a newspaper column on bridge. He quit the game in later years, however, when he gave up gambling.
Sharif spent much of his later years in Cairo and at the Royal Moncean Hotel in Paris.
In May, reports surfaced that Sharif was battling Alzheimer's disease.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.