Saturday 12 November began with news that broke the hearts of Egyptians: one of the icons of Egypt’s cinema, Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz had passed away. Mr Abdel-Aziz died after a struggle with pernicious anaemia which had left him weeks before his death in a constant state of weakness and severe weight loss.
The 70-year-old star died in a Cairo hospital. His funeral was held at the Police Mosque in the west Cairo satellite city of 6 October; Culture Minister Helmy al-Namnam led the mourners. Mr Abdel-Aziz’s coffin was then taken to Alexandria for burial in his hometown.
The widely loved actor is survived by his wife, actress Poussy Shalaby; and two sons from a previous marriage to Gigi Zoued: Muhammad, a film director; and Karim, an actor.
The late actor has to his credit some 100 films and TV dramas. He was awarded a number of local and international prizes that testify to his dedication and prowess as a masterful actor.
Born on 4 June 1946 in the middle-class district of al-Werdayan in Alexandria where he obtained his schooling, Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz went on to earn a degree in Agriculture from Alexandria University in the 1960s and a Masters degree in beehives.
Egyptian audiences were first introduced to Abdel-Aziz in the 1970s, through the TV drama Al-Dawaama (The Whirlpool). His handsome boyish face exuded romantic candour and trust, and instantly captured hearts. His first role in cinema was that of the young first time father in the 1974 film Al-Hafeed (The Grandson), a film that depicts the [extended] family receiving the first grandson with all the joy and excitement this entails. The final scene has all the children in the family forming a vivacious procession to celebrate the sobou, the seventh day celebration, of the new baby as the proud parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts join in singing the traditional songs for the occasion. Celebration of sobou has its roots ancient Egypt. The film is to this day widely popular among Egyptians for whom it mirrors a true-to-life experience with all its anxiety, anticipation, and joy.
Abdel-Aziz was cast in roles of romance and adventure till 1982 when he starred in the films Al-Aar (The Disgrace) and Al-Keif (Addiction); the two films tackled issues of drug trafficking and addiction and how they stand to ruin the lives of not only those directly involved in them, but also all who unwittingly or unwillingly get caught in their webs.
By then a mature actor, Abdel-Aziz played roles that were diverse and multifaceted. He played the leading role in some 60 films including such gems as Eidam Talib Thanawi (Execution of a Secondary School Student); Al-Barie’ (The Innocent); and Hatta Akher al-Umr (Unto the End of My Life). It was his role in the last film that earned him the title “The Charmer”.
It was not for nothing that the star actor was dubbed The Charmer.
His two most unforgettable roles came in the mid-1980s and the 1990s. The first was that of the good-for-nothing young man Ra’fat al-Haggan who was groomed by an Egyptian intelligence officer into a savvy, shrewd spy who was able to penetrate the ranks of the Israeli Mossad with total credibility. The TV serial drama which carried the spy’s name Ra’fat al-Haggan had viewers glued to their screens during the hours it was aired; they watched Mr Abdel-Aziz’s almost real-life metamorphosis from the world-be-damned youth into the calculating, daring gentleman who would give anything to serve his homeland. The drama was taken straight out of the Egyptian Intelligence archives of the 1950, 60s, and early 70s. It must be noted that the Egyptian Intelligence issued a statement mourning the death of Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, the brave man who loved his country.
The second role was his epic depiction of the blind Sheikh Hosni in the 1991 film Al-Kit-Kat. Despite his blindness Sheikh Hosni was, for his ingeniousness and wit, a subtle force to be reckoned with in the alley where he lived in the populous Cairo district of al-Kit-Kat. A scene in the film has him tearing through the streets in a motorbike, exhilarated with the ride and displaying singular prowess, as all around stare in disbelief. It is a scene that will forever remain carved in the memories of Egyptians.