Sharif took the title role in Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, co-starring Julie Christie, for which he won another Golden Globe award. He then played Fanny Brice’s husband, Nicky Arnstein, in Funny Girl alongside Barbara Streisand. But although he starred in dozens of films, his career never quite lived up to its early promise and his later fame rested on his ability with a pack of cards.

Sharif was a regular in casinos and one of the world’s best bridge players. In May, Sharif’s son Tarek El-Sharif, revealed that his father had Alzheimer’s and confused the names of his best known films. He said the actor mistook fans for people he used to know. “My father has Alzheimer’s,” the 58-year-old told Spanish newspaper El Mundo. “It’s difficult to determine what stage. It’s obvious he won’t improve and will get worse.” He said that his father, who had recently spent most of his time in his native Egypt, struggled with details in particular.

“He remembers for example that it was Doctor Zhivago but he’s forgotten when it was filmed,” he added. “He can talk about the film but he forgets its name or he calls it something else like Lawrence Of Arabia.” Mr El-Sharif, the actor’s only child with his ex-wife of 20 years Faten Hamama, said his father did not recognise that he was ill.

He was unaware that his former wife had died in January. The pair had met on set and Sharif, who was born Michel Demetri Chalhoub, is said to have changed his name when he married her and converted to Islam. Sharif attended boarding school in Cairo, where he developed a taste for acting.

He went on to gain a degree in mathematics and physics from Cairo University and became one of the top 10 bridge players in the world. But he once claimed that he was “always one film behind my debts”. He is said to have lost a £4million villa on the Spanish island of Lanzarote in a bridge game in the 1970s.

Gambling took its toll on his career and, speaking in 2004, Sharif said he stopped making films when his own grandchildren started making fun of the low-rent movies he was appearing in.

He said: “I stopped making movies because for the last 25 years I’ve been making a lot of rubbish because I was in debt all the time”. The actor spent much of his life living in hotels and was reportedly living in one in the Red Sea resort of El Gouna as recently as May. His son said his father felt “insecure” when he left the hotel and often refused to come out of his room.