Celebrities die every day like other people. Sometimes, I can hardly remember who they are or what they did until I read the obituary or story. At other times, it hits me with the force of memory and gratitude.
So it was yesterday when I heard that Omar Sharif had died at 83. I wasn't shocked. It had been announced earlier this year that he had Alzheimer's, and he was getting on in years. Still, it's been a long time since I felt the death of a public figure quite so deeply.
I was 15, almost 16, when my mother took me to see Dr. Zhivago at the old Beechwood Theatre in Athens. (When it was a single, huge screen.) I think this is the only time she and I went to the movies alone. Maybe she wanted to see it and wanted company. I just don't remember.
But the movie hit me like a train going a million miles an hour. It was the first time I understood what it could be like to live as an Artist--transcendent at times, tragic at others--and I knew I wanted it more than I wanted food and air.
Sharif had the title role, and he played what he later called "an almost perfect man." Indeed, he was in some ways the second coming of Atticus Finch. But what moved me was his ability to keep going, keep writing verse even when the world and his own life was coming apart at the seems. Maybe art could be the thing to make the world cohere for someone like me.
I have always wished I'd been able to thank Omar and David Lean for that movie. Obviously, too, I fell madly in love with Julie Christie and Geraldine Chaplin. But by that point in my life, I knew movies were artful lies, beautiful stories to move and madden.
I doubt any movie had a greater impact on me in my life than Dr. Zhivago. Bless you, Omar Sharif, for bringing to life a man who created a world one line at a time.