The acclaimed Egyptian actor Nour El Sherif — known for his work on more than 100 films and TV productions — died after a long battle with illness on Tuesday. He was 69 years old.
While it has never been confirmed what El Sherif was suffering from, reports in the past have suggested that the actor suffered from lung problems. Initially, El Sherif reportedly was facing issues with a lack of blood supply to his right foot, which forced him to undergo surgery in the United States to expand his arteries. However, it is said that the procedure resulted in his lungs accumulating water, which he never entirely recovered from.
A spokesperson for the star confirmed to Egypt’s state news agency that El Sherif’s funeral took place on Wednesday in Cairo, and will be followed by Friday prayers at the Omar Makram mosque in the same city.
Early life and rise to fame
Born Mohammad Geber Mohammad Abdallah on April 28, 1946, El Sherif grew up in the working-class neighbourhood of Sayeda Zeinab in Cairo, before graduating from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in 1967.
An avid football player, El Sherif was also offered the opportunity to join the prominent Egyptian club Zamalek, but gave up training in order to focus on his acting.
After being discovered by the actor Sa’ad Ardash — who assigned him a small role in the play Shawarya Al Khalifya (The Backstreets) — El Sherif was then chosen by prominent director Hassan Imam to appear in Qasr Al Shawk (Palace of Desire), the screen adaptation of one of the novels in a trilogy by Egyptian Nobel Prize laureate Naguib Mahfouz. This film was his big break.
El Sherif’s 47-year career has seen him produce and star in some of the top ranking Arabic films and TV series, including Yousuf Chahine’s Hadouta Masreya (An Egyptian Story) in 1982 and Al Massir (Destiny) in 1997, as well as the 2006 groundbreaking adaptation of Alaa’ Al Aswany’s novel A’amaret Yacoubian (The Yacoubian Building) and 2008’s Masgoon Transit (Prisoner in Transit) and Leilat Al Baby Doll (Night of the Baby Doll).
He was also a major force in the world of TV, with his series pulling in audiences from across the Middle East. Some of his best known roles were in the dramas: Haroon Al Rasheed; Omar Bin Abdel Aziz; A’aeilat Al Hag Metwally (The Family of Haj Metwally) and Lan A’aeesh Fe Gelbab Aby (I Will Not Live in My Father’s Shadow).
El Sherif met and married his wife, the actress Pousi in 1972, and have two girls together: Mai Nour El Sherif — who’s also an actress — and Sarah. However, following 34 years of marriage, the duo announced their separation and filed for divorce in 2006.
With both reportedly having never really gotten over the split, the couple reunited this year following El Sherif’s operation in the US. At the time of going to print, Pousi is yet to release a statement to the media.
A host of tributes by some of the Arab world’s best-known artists have poured in for the legendary actor online.
One of the most notable was by Mohammad Sobhi, who’s from the same generation of Egyptian actors. On his official Facebook page, he posted: “My friend, my brother and my colleague Nour El Sherif is now with Allah. We were born in the same neighbourhood — we are the sons of Sayeda Zeinab [neighbourhood]. We were also colleagues at the Institute of Performing Arts and I watched his rise to stardom.
“An honourable and talented man. A gentleman. A cultured individual who had tremendous love for his country. May you rest in peace and may Allah grant your family patience.”
Also taking to Facebook was the actor Amr Youssef, who’s also married to El Sherif’s daughter, Mai.
“Today we have lost one of the most important pillars of art in the Arab world,” he wrote. “Goodbye to my father, my teacher and my friend; goodbye the genius Nour El Sherif. I please ask you to pray for him.”
Other celebrities paying tribute to the star so far include the Emirati performer Ahlam Al Shamsi; Moroccan singer Sa’ad Lamjarred; Tunisian actress Hend Sabri and Palestinian hitmaker Mohammad Assaf.
Final UAE appearance
El Sherif’s last public appearance in the UAE was last December when he attended the 11th Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) for the world premiere of his now final film, Cairo Time.
Directed by Amir Ramses, the romantic comedy — which received critical acclaim during the event — also stars El Sherif’s good friends Mervat Amin and Samir Sabry, as well as Sherif Ramzy, Ayten Amer, Dorra Zarrouk and Kinda Alloush.
During the opening ceremony of the festival, El Sherif was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his services to the Arab film industry.
In his acceptance speech, the actor said: “I am delighted to be receiving this honour from Diff, because this type of recognition is extremely important for every artist.
“This honour means that I did not live my artistic life in vain.”
— Rachel McArthur is a Dubai-based writer.