Omar Sharif: Five things you didn't know about the Doctor Zhivago actor

One of few Arabic actors to break into the Hollywood mainstream, Lawrence of Arabia star had an eventful life on and off screen

Omar Sharif: the Egyptian icon who conquered the world screen

Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor best known for starring in films such as Doctor Zhivago, is celebrated in the latest Google Doodle on what would have been his 86th birthday.

After beginning his screen career as a teenager in his native country, he was catapulted to international fame by a Golden Globe-winning turn in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia in 1962.

He earned further plaudits three years later with a leading role as the titular Russian medic and poet in Doctor Zhivago as he became one of few Arabic actors to break into the Hollywood mainstream.

He also lived an eventful life away from the big screen.

Here are five things you might know about Sharif.

1. He was a champion bridge player

After reportedly learning how to play contact bridge to pass the time on movie sets, Sharif developed a passion for the card game that eclipsed his enjoyment of acting.

He grew into an expert player and for a time was ranked among the top 50 in the world.

During the 1970s he wrote a bridge column for the Chicago Tribune newspaper, and authored several books on the game.

“I’d rather be playing bridge than making a bad movie,” he once said.

However, he later stopped playing entirely, saying he considered his passion for the game to have grown into an unhealthy addiction.

2. He once punched Ian Dury

After encountering Sharif in a London club in 1985, rock star Dury – apparently a few drinks worse for wear – decided to impart some film criticism to the actor, who had been dining with a young female companion.

“I think the first film you made was your best one, everything else was s**t,” he told him.

An argument broke out between the pair that culminated in Sharif leaping from his seat and repeatedly punching Dury in the face, according to Richard Balls’ biography of the Blockheads frontman.

It was not the only time Sharif’s temper got the better of him.

In 2003 he was given a suspended sentence for headbutting a police officer in a Parisian casino.

“It made me the hero of the whole of France,” he later said, unapologetically. “To headbutt a cop is the dream of every Frenchman.”

3. He was a big fan of Hull City Football Club

Sharif shared a flat with Hull-born actor Tom Courtenay in the 1960s, during which time the Yorkshireman passed on his passion for the Tigers.

Sharif remained a lifelong Hull City fan and was awarded an honorary degree by the city’s university in 2010.

Courtenay and Sharif reunited at Wembley to watch their beloved team narrowly beaten by Arsenal in the 2014 FA Cup final.

4. He claimed to receive thousands of marriage proposals a week

Strikingly handsome and notoriously charming, Sharif once boasted he received 3,000 offers of marriage in Doctor Zhivago's opening week.

He in fact married just the once, to fellow Egyptian actor Faten Hamama, with whom he feel in love after they co-starred in a film early in his career. He converted to Islam and changed his name from Michael Shalhoub to Omar el-Sharif so they could marry, but they divorced 19 years later after having one son together.

Although he never remarried, there were many more women in his life. Commenting on a second son he fathered during a brief affair with an Italian journalist in 1969, he said: “I don’t consider him to be my son, although I concede that he was probably produced by a sperm of mine. But then it is possible that I might have 100,000 sons.”

5. A besotted fan tried to seduce him at gunpoint

While staying in a hotel room in Dallas in the 1960s a drunken female fan forced her way into Sharif’s hotel room and ordered him to take his clothes off.

But an essential part of his anatomy, quite understandably, refused to respond to the threat of a bullet.

“Using her free hand she sought to encourage me,” he later recounted. ”In vain. As it would have been with anyone.”

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