Doctor Zhivago star Omar Sharif was paid a staggeringly small amount | Films | Entertainment


The shoot of the iconic movie was almost as tumultuous as Sharif’s own life. Filmed in Spain, a mid-winter heatwave was disastrous when the production needed snow to portray Russia. Co-star Julie Christie recalled: “St Petersburgh in mid-Winter in fact was Madrid in a heatwave. We were all waiting, this multi-million dollar epic, was waiting to be made while we were all sweating away in our furs in 100 degrees heat, waiting for the snow which never came. Finally we were saved by the props and set dressers. So they covered the whole of the set in mountains of marble dust and for the long shots, the fields were covered by miles and miles of bed sheets.”

Born in Egypt on April 10, 1932, the Hollywood heartthrob won two Golden Globes, including for his international debut.

Still an unknown when he got his big Hollywood break, in 1962 Sharif signed on with film producer Sam Spiegel for Laurence of Arabia at an astonishingly low rate. He was locked into a seven-picture deal at $15,000 (£9,600) per film, which the producer convinced him was the standard rate at the time.

The others included some of the biggest movies of the era like Doctor Zhivago, Behold a Pale Horse, Night of the Generals, Genghis Khan, McKenna’s Gold, and Funny Girl.

Despite fame and some fortune, Sharif’s life and career were blighted by his gambling, something he shared with his Funny Girl character, Nick Arnstein. He was actually a world-class Bridge player and was even known to postpone film shoots in order to be able to attend major bridge events. The actor also wrote a weekly syndicated column on the game.

However, the quality of his later films was rarely high – a fact he attributed to his need to pay off his debts.

He said: “I stopped making movies because for the last twenty five years I’ve been making a lot of rubbish, because I was in debt all the time. You know I used to gamble quite a bit and then I was always broke. I was always one film behind my debts and so at some point you know I had to work all the time to support my family and myself and all my expensive tastes and then I decided that it became ridiculous at some point.”

Sharif added: “It got to the stage where my own grandchildren use to make fun of my films, which is very serious.”

He received a one-month suspended prison sentence for striking a police officer in a suburban-Paris casino in July 2003. He had insulted and then head-butted the Pontoise policeman, who tried to intervene in an argument between the actor and a roulette croupier.

The star was fined $1,700 and ordered to pay the officer $340 in damages.

Sharif’s temper flared up again in June 2005 when he punched a US parking attendant who refused to accept his European currency. The court in Beverly Hills, California, ordered him to take an anger management course.

He also gambled with his health, smoking 100 cigarettes a day until he underwent triple bypass surgery in 1992. He quit immediately. He also suffered a mild heart attack in 1994, and another was the cause of his death on July 10, 2015.

Sharif had mixed luck in his personal life. He was idolised by women around the world and acted opposite some of Hollywood’s most celebrated beauties. His affair with Barbra Streisand while filming Funny Girl hit headlines.

He had married his young love, actress Faten Hamama in 1954. Even though they divorced in 1974, he said in an interview to the Egyptian Television that his former wife was the only true love of his life. The couple had one son, Tareq El-Sharif, in 1957.

When his father died, Tareq also revealed that Sharif had been battling Alzheimer’s.



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