He cared deeply about other people, even those he wasn’t close to. He was foremost a gentleman; his manners impeccable: he spoke to strangers and friends politely, charming them sweetly with his smile and trademark glint
When news broke that legendary Egyptian actor Ahmed Ramzi had died yesterday, September 28, many remembered him fondly as the playboy of the Egyptian cinema, a member of the golden years of Egyptian cinema who had starred alongside and befriended icons such as Omar Al Sherif, Abdel Halim Hafez, Soaad Hosni and Tahia Karioka. Reading the obituaries of Ramzi’s life and career, it seems that little is known of the man behind the screen persona, a testament to the actor’s success in keeping his life private.
I had the pleasure of knowing Ahmed Ramzi, not the actor but rather the affectionate Uncle Ramzi, as I and the children of his close friends called him. The man I knew and loved shared the same spark, the same glint in his eyes that the cinema screen had captured so perfectly, but he was far from the playboy legend he’d created of himself; at least not to me.
He had that indescribable old-school star quality to him; even fifty years after ‘Ayamna El Helwa’ and several recent and foiled TV and cinema roles, Ramzi would simply walk into a room, and the atmosphere would become electric. Born Ramzi Bayomi in 1930 to a Scottish mother and an Egyptian father, he broke into movies in 1955 with ‘Ayamna El Helwa’ alongside Faten Hamama, Abdel Halim Hafez and Omar Al Sherif. He went on to star in thirty films until 1970, often typecast as the charismatic bad boy, the irresistible playboy, the rough troublemaker with the debonair grin and open shirt.
When I met him in his mid-seventies, Ramzi was a quiet man keen on his privacy and his close circle of friends. He had been the life of the party in the 1960s with his actor peers on the beaches of Agami. When I met him he was very much the family man to his three children and wife of many years. You could tell just by the way he smiled at his son that his children were his pride and joy, a testament to his biggest triumph in life.
Ramzi had a crippling fear of flying, which meant he had to take a boat to visit his children in the UK. He also hated noise and crowds, so he eventually settled into a quiet home on the North Coast of Egypt, where his children and grandchildren would spend summers with him. He enjoyed the reclusive life, the sense of quiet and peace away from the city.
His friends would travel hours just to visit him for a cup of tea; but they did so willingly because Ramzi was a faithful friend, the kind who would call daily to check up on you, who would do anything in his power to help you. He cared deeply about other people, even those he wasn’t close to. He kept in touch with his longtime friend Omar Al Sherif, but most of his oldest friends were outside the acting circle; friends from his years at Victoria College in Alexandria and the beaches of Stanley and Bianchi.
He was foremost a gentleman; his manners impeccable: he spoke to strangers and friends politely, charming them sweetly with his smile and trademark glint; it was impossible not to blush and fawn over him. He had that indescribable old-school star quality to him; even fifty years after ‘Ayamna El Helwa’ and several recent and foiled TV and cinema roles, Ramzi would simply walk into a room, and the atmosphere would become electric. He held himself with dignity, he treated others thus; he would stand up and offer me his seat when I walked in even though I was young enough to be his granddaughter. A professional actor appreciative of etiquette and respect for the trade, he discovered that the new cinema industry did not have the same ideals he respected, and decided to return to his private life.
To him, there was no point in living life carefully; why not enjoy a good cigar in good company if you’re going to die anyway?
Like any old man, Ramzi was complex and difficult; he was set in his habits and traditions. He loved his cigars and refused to give them up regardless of his doctors’ or children’s orders. To him, there was no point in living life carefully; why not enjoy a good cigar in good company if you’re going to die anyway?
Ramzi never spoke ill of anyone, nor did he gossip, at least not in front of me. I had always hoped to spend another afternoon on his terrace, curl up on his wicker chair and ask him about the golden years and his glamorous life; about his relationships and his friendship with Omar Al Sharif, what it was like to work with Ismail Yaseen and why he hadn’t tried to make it in Hollywood like Al Sharif. I had lofty aspirations to write his memoirs, ones that would do him and his family justice beyond the myths and stereotypes of his cinematic career.
Ramzi died in the house he loved the most by the sea where he’d spent his happier, earlier years. In typical fashion, his last wish was to hold the funeral in his North Coast home; not in Cairo with the crowds and traffic. Even after death, Ramzi maintained his distaste for aThose who adored him – and that’s everyone who met him, even briefly- will remember how with few words and a simple smile, the man who’d aged considerably could still completely charm and infatuate everyone. pointless traffic-jammed commute to the city. His closest friends will surely remember him with fond stories of his devilish charm, his antics and his wicked sense of humor. Those who adored him – and that’s everyone who met him, even briefly- will remember how with few words and a simple smile, the man who’d aged considerably could still completely charm and infatuate everyone.
At the funeral yesterday in Sidi Abdel Rahman, hundreds of bedouins from the neighbourhood came to honour him alongside his friends, colleagues and members of the press. The presence of the bedouins was foremost indicative of how many diverse people he had touched, and how many deeply respected him as an honourable person more than just a screen legend.
He was truly one of the last gentlemen of the Egyptian cinema and he will be sorely missed.
Soraya Morayef is a writer and freelance journalist based in Cairo. Her blog suzeeinthecity.wordpress.com provides insight into the burgeoning graffiti scene in Cairo.