Omar Sharif was born Michel Demetri Shalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, on April 19, 1932. His parents raised him as a Roman Catholic. He earned a mathematics degree from Cairo University and worked in his family’s lumber business until he began acting in Egypt in 1954. In 1955 he married Egyptian actor Faten Hamama, but first he had to convert to Islam and chang his name to Omar al-Sharif. They had one son, Tarek Sharif.
The great director David Lean cast him in Lawrence Of Arabia (1962), an epic historical drama based on the life of gay T. E. Lawrence. Sharif played opposite Peter O’Toole. During shooting in the desert of Jordan, the actors were pampered by the womanizing Lean who, although both actors were married, flew in beautiful young women to keep the actors company. The two actors appeared in several other films together and remained close friends.
Omar Sharif Jr. is the son of a Muslim, Tarek Sharif, and a Jewish mother. He grew up in Montreal, Paris, and Cairo. As a kid, he heard stories of O’ Toole and his grandfather’s wild ways. He claims that his grandfather’s promiscuity was probably the reason for the divorce from his grandmother in 1974.
”I went to school internationally. So I would see him at Christmas vacation, Easter vacation, Ramadan. My way of seeing him every day was watching him in films. I think I’ve seen Funny Girl more than 200 times. My grandfather wasn’t just Granddad. He was that actor in those films. He was Nicky Arnstein; that role was so much like he was. He loved the racehorses, the casinos. He was an intelligent gentleman, charming with women. So, it was wonderful to be able to see him every day even when I was away at school. It’s heart-wrenching to think that’s now going to be the way I have to go back to watching him.”
In 2012, Sharif Jr. came out of the closet in The Advocate. He stated:
”The parliamentary elections in Egypt had dealt secularists a particularly devastating blow. I had vision of a freer, more equal Egypt, a vision that many young patriots gave their lives to see realized in Tahrir Square, has been hijacked. I’m a son, I’m a brother, I’m a coworker, I’m a friend. I’m not a fact, or a figure, or a statistic. I’m not a moral or an ethical debate.”
He is probably the first public personality to ever come out as openly gay in the Arab World. His announcement led to widespread criticism and death threats. He said that his grandfather knew that he was gay and had never had a problem with it.
He was living in Cairo, but uneasy about the new Egypt, he left for Los Angeles, where he now works as an actor. He has a B.A. from Queen’s University, a Master’s in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics and a degree in Performing Arts from The Lee Strasberg Institute. Sharif is fluent in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Yiddish.
According to Sharif Jr., Funny Girl was his grandfather’s favorite film because audiences could see the real Omar Sharif in his portrayal of Nicky Arnstein. Sharif loved horse races, casinos, and nightlife. He often took his grandson along to racetracks, allowing him to bet small amounts in order to feel the excitement of having his horse win. He also encouraged young Sharif to participate in his conversations with friends and took him to the Academy Awards and the after parties.
He also claims that his grandfather was the one to teach him about love and sex, saying:
”…making love is like playing bridge, you either need an incredible partner or a really good hand.”
His grandfather was ranked among the top 50 Bridge Players in the world, and probably the Top 50 Lovers.
For acting advice Sharif Sr. told his grandson:
“I gave you my name, I gave you my looks. I’m not going to give you anything else. You have to do it entirely on your own.”
Omar Sharif’s co-star in Funny Girl also has gay progeny. Jason Gould came out to his mother and his father, Elliot Gould, when he was 21-years-old.
In a 1999 interview with The Advocate, Barbra Streisand said:
”I would never wish for my son to be anything but what he is. He is bright, kind, sensitive, caring, and a very conscientious and good person. He is a very gifted actor and filmmaker. What more could a parent ask for in their child? I have been truly blessed. Most parents feel that their child is particularly special, and I am no different. I have a wonderful son. My only wish for my son is that he continues to experience a rich life of love, happiness, joy, and fulfillment, both creatively and personally.”
Jason released a terrific album of standards and new tunes in December 2017, Dangerous Man, produced by Quincy Jones. Omar Sharif Jr. appears in Jim Sheridan‘s 11 Hours (2017), a 10-minute film set in a NYC bar, 11 hours after the Twin Towers came down on 9/11.
I wish that they would date, but at the least, Sharif and Gould should get together and sing a version of If A Girl Isn’t Pretty.