Beloved Egyptian comedian Samir Ghanem dies aged 84 after Covid-19 battle

Lavish tributes reflect his huge popularity after 60-year career

Samir Ghanem, one of Egypt’s most beloved comedians, was laid to rest on Friday amid a nationwide sense of loss at a poorly attended funeral affected by the Covid-19 pandemic which claimed his life.

Ghanem, who was 84, leaves behind an incredible legacy that includes about 150 films, 60 television series, several radio series and 40 stage plays, over a career spanning 60 years.

“He was the best example of an artist who lived to spread joy and make everyone happy,” President Abdel Fatah El Sisi said on his Facebook page.

Ghanem and his wife, the actress Dalal Abdel Aziz, were admitted to hospital earlier this month after they tested positive for Covid-19. News of their illness gripped the nation, with popular TV presenters and online news sites regularly updating viewers and readers on their situation.

Ms Abdel Aziz, who is 20 years younger than Ghanem, remains in hospital and, media reports say, has yet to be told about her husband’s passing.

Fearing the coronavirus, Ghanem’s fans across the country of 100 million stayed away from his funeral, which was attended by relatives, local film stars and other comedians.

Most of the attendees wore masks, giving the occasion a morbid atmosphere that the veteran comedian probably would not have appreciated.

Several entertainers lavishly praised Ghanem in brief comments to reporters and television news crews covering the funeral, held at a suburban mosque on the eastern edge of Cairo.

Their tributes reflected the high esteem in which Ghanem’s craft was held by his peers. Comments included phrases such as “people like him can never be found”, “we can never fill the vacuum he left behind”, and “he put so many smiles on so many faces.”

With several generations in Egypt growing up watching Ghanem’s slapstick comedy, his death triggered an outpouring of grief on social media, as people both lamented his loss and celebrated him as one of the all-time greats.

“Why did the man who lifted us from sadness and made us happy leave?” asked Ahmed Helmy, one of Egypt’s top film stars and himself a comedian.

Egyptians carry the coffin of comedian actor Samir Ghanem during his funeral. AFP
Egyptians carry the coffin of comedian actor Samir Ghanem during his funeral. AFP

“He was a real legend. He made us laugh for 60 years and will continue to make us and many generations to come laugh,” wrote another comedian, known by his single stage name, Chico.

“I never cried before over the death of an actor or someone famous that I did not personally know,” wrote Yasmine El Dorghamy, editor of the prestigious cultural magazine Rawi. “But I could not stop my tears. He was a big part of my childhood that I feel is now gone with him.”

The US Embassy in Cairo also made a statement on its Facebook page: “We join the people of Egypt in mourning the loss of the legendary Samir Ghanem. His legacy will live on through the hearts he touched with his humour”.

Ghanem began his career in the 1960s as a member of a comedy trio made up of recent university graduates called Tholathy Adwaa El Masrah, or the “Trio of Stage Lights.” The two other members were George Sidhom, who died in 2020 after a long illness, and El Deif Ahmed, whose death in 1970 at the young age of 34 caused the trio to break up.

The three began their career with television sketches similar to those on NBC’s Saturday Night Live in the American show’s early days.

The trio later starred in a number of successful films which established them among Egypt’s top comedians.

Ghanem’s career soared after leaving the troupe, as he went on to star in several box office hits that saw him refine his clownish, slapstick brand of comedy that garnered the love of millions of fans in Egypt and across the Arab world.

Beside the films in which he was cast in the leading role, Ghanem was often cast as the lead man’s best friend, providing popular wisdom with one-liners repeated by millions of fans. He also enjoyed a reputation for improvising in stage plays. “I am the king of improvisation,” he once told a TV interviewer.

Egyptians saw the last of Ghanem’s work when he and one of his two daughters starred in a popular commercial for a mobile phone company, aired during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended less than two weeks ago.

Beside Ms Abdel Aziz, his third wife, Ghanem is survived by daughters Donia and Emmy, two of Egypt’s best-known actresses and comedians.

Published: May 21, 2021 09:45 PM

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