Mack Williams: Death of my idol

Published 10:28 am Friday, July 17, 2015

This title has nothing to do with the Old Testament or the First Commandment, but instead someone I looked up to all my life. I never met him, but was a lifelong fan of his movies. Not being perfect, sometimes his “issues” were highlighted in the newspapers and tabloids, like that time he head-butted a Parisian policeman at a gambling casino, or slapped a woman in Cairo who broke in line to be photographed with him. (She did break in line!)

Despite such minor failings, to me, he epitomized “class” and “cool.”

On Friday afternoon, July 10, at 12:06 p.m., I received a text from my son Jeremy, stating: “Omar Sharif died today, a heart attack while in Cairo, he was 83.”

Friend Sonya Wolen shared the death notice to my Facebook page, with the preface: “Some very sad news, Mack!”

At 4:10 p.m., Friday, I received over-the-phone condolences from my daughter Rachel concerning the same subject.

I first “met” Omar Sharif on the screen of Salisbury’s Capitol Theater in “Doctor Zhivago.” I noticed that the child actor portraying Yuri Zhivago as a child looked just like me when I was that age. My brother Joe’s statement, “That kid looks just like Mack at that age,” coupled with the fact that the child actor was Omar Sharif’s son probably aided in setting the course for my teenage-boy, young-adult, old man “man-crush” adulation of Omar Sharif.

Sometimes the desire to look like someone else can influence our self-perception.

Exiting a movie theater, I always feel a little misplaced, but “Doctor Zhivago” was so engrossing that when I exited the Capitol in 1967, I felt like wearing snowshoes.

In 1969, I purchased a Russian-style hat and long coat at Zimmerman’s before heading off to Appalachian, simply because such fashion was “Zhivago-esque” (and warm).

A good portion of Boone’s weather was “Zhivago weather,” and sometimes on long wintertime treks to class (though not as long as Zhivago’s trek back to Yuriatin), my mustache grew a small icicle or two, just like Omar’s.

At Boone’s Appalachian Theater, the heat went out while my future wife, Diane, friends, and I were watching “Doctor Zhivago,” leading to our experiencing “sensurrcold.”

Before going to a college party, I would sometimes check my “Omar Sharif stare” in the mirror. Unfortunately, the late Dean Lingle was right when he told me at East Rowan that my voice reminded him of the voice of Peter Lorre. (With that voice, an accompanying stare has quite different connotations.)

The last movie I saw at the Capitol Theater was “Doctor Zhivago,” one weekend in the 1970s when my late wife and I visited my late mother. To the “lateness” of Capitol Theater, mother, and wife is now added the “lateness” of “Doctor Zhivago’s” main star.

At one time in the past, I even daydreamed that if I ever met Omar Sharif, he might think I was his illegitimate offspring. (But that sort of thing might backfire; and he might have quickly headed in the opposite direction, because the illegitimate children of famous people usually want money.)

At an East Rowan class of 1969 reunion, one friend said: “You really did like Omar Sharif!”

It’s sad thinking of him being gone. I hope someone placed a handful of daffodils on his grave as was done on the grave of Yuri Zhivago. (Whenever my time comes, hopefully someone will do likewise for me.)

About 10 or so years ago, here in Danville, Virginia, a man with the surname Moore passed on. In the same edition of the local paper where his obituary was printed, was an article about the actor Roger Moore. The article about the famous actor was pictureless, but to the obituary of the man with that same surname, the picture of the famous actor was affixed.

Hopefully, my time is a long way off, but when my “notice” is published, perhaps there will also be an equal story in that same edition in which someone’s memories of Omar Sharif from twenty years or so in the past are recalled.

Despite my last name not being Sharif, maybe a similar mix-up in pictures will occur, with Omar’s picture being atop my obituary, and my picture being atop a story about memories of him.

In that case, my obituary would be really cool, and come to think of it, the other article would be too!

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