Mahmoud Yassin, an emblem of Egyptian cinema, dies aged 79

Yassin died in the early hours of Wednesday after struggling for years with an undisclosed illness

Mahmoud Yassin, one of the most prolific actors in the history of Egyptian cinema, has died. Ahmed Shober / Twitter
Powered by automated translation

Mahmoud Yassin, one of the most prolific actors in the history of Egyptian cinema, has died at the age of 79.

Yassin passed away in the early hours of Wednesday  after struggling for years with an undisclosed illness.

His son, Amr Mahmoud Yassin, announced the actor’s death with a post on his social media pages. “He was a great star but also a great father,” Amr wrote in an Instagram post, along with a picture of his father with a few of the awards he had received across his four-decade career.

Tributes to the Egyptian star began pouring on to social media from fans and celebrities seconds after the announcement of his death.

Tunisian singer Latifa responded to Amr's Instagram post by mourning the actor’s passing, writing: “May God protect him and make him an example for all of us.”

"I mourn with great sadness and sorrow the great artist Mahmoud Yassin, who passed away today," Ahmed Shobiar, a former goalkeeper who played for the Egyptian national team, wrote. "I ask the Almighty to bless him with the breadth of his mercy."

“We’re gonna miss you,” Soha Ahmed, a fan, wrote on Twitter, adding a broken heart emoji. “Another legend gone this year. Rest in peace.”

Who was Mahmoud Yassin?

Dubbed "the first young man of the screen", Yassin was born in 1941 in Port Said, a city in the north-east of Egypt, sprawled along the Mediterranean coast.

After finishing his high school education, Yassin went to Cairo to join the School of Law at Ain Shams University. However, even then he was intent on becoming an actor and took part in a competition at the National Theatre, in which he won first place in three consecutive qualifiers. Meanwhile, after graduating in 1964, he received a work opportunity in his home town, but refused the government position in favour of pursuing a career in theatre.

He began his journey as a stage actor that same year, taking part in the play The Dream, directed by Abdulrahim Al Zarqani. Over the next few years, Yassin presented more than 20 plays at the National Theatre, including Layla wa Majnun, Khedive and Suleiman al Halabi.

Yassin made the switch to cinema in 1968, taking up small roles in a series of films including The Man Who Lost His Shadow, directed by Kamal El Sheikh (dubbed the Hitchcock of Egyptian cinema) and The Trial, directed by Salah Abu Seif, who is considered to be the godfather of Neorealist cinema in Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s.

His first opportunity to star in a film came in 1970, when he took the leading role in the Hussein Kamal-directed film We Do Not Sow Thorns opposite Shadia, who by then had already established herself as one of the most important film actors in Egypt.

The film made Yassin a household name across the Arab world and he soon proved himself to be an unstoppable force in the industry, starring in more than 50 films during the next decade. By the end of his life, his filmography would boast more than 150 titles.

Some of his most critically acclaimed works include the 1975 comedy Love Sweeter Than Love, Climbing to the Abyss, a 1978 biopic about Heba Selim who worked for the Mossad along with her fiance in the post-1967 war era, and The Island, a 2007 action film about a community living on an island with their own established set of rules, ethics and customs.

The last film he appeared in was the 2012 comedy Grandpa Habibi.

Since then, Yassin has been famously reclusive. Rumours of his death have routinely circulated in the past few years, most recently in March, when actor Ashraf Zaki, head of the Actor’s Syndicate in Egypt, had to release a statement saying the news was unfounded.

However, now with Yassin's son confirming his death, it seems that the Egyptian cinema industry has, indeed, lost one of its most prominent vanguards and emblems of its post-Golden Age.