CAIRO — Shadia, an Egyptian actress and singer who captivated millions for decades with memorable singles and iconic film roles, has died. She was 86.
Born Fatimah Shaker in 1931 but known throughout her career by her single stage name, Shadia suffered a stroke earlier this month and later went into a coma. She was admitted to a Cairo military hospital where she was paid an intensely publicized visit by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and his wife. She died late on Tuesday of complications.
Hundreds of mourners turned up Wednesday for her funeral at a historic mosque in Cairo’s middle-class Sayedah Nafeesa district, with some carrying poster portraits of her.
“She has been away from the entertainment scene for 30 years, but she has throughout remained close to people’s hearts,” said prominent film critic Tareq el-Shinnawy.
Shadia had more than 100 films to her name and hundreds of singles in a career that stretched back to the late 1940s. She belongs to an era in the Egyptian entertainment industry that critics and entertainers call the “beautiful” or “golden” age, a time that roughly stretched from the 1940s to the 1970s, when some of Egypt’s best movies were produced.
With her silky and playful voice and perfectly honed acting skills, Shadia was at the heart of that era, winning a fan base that stretches across the entire Arab world. Her film roles were diverse and engaging, ranging from willful country girls and career city women to comical portrayals of emotionally disturbed women and hopeless romantics.
Her roles in two films based on novels by Egypt’s late Naguib Mahfouz won her lavish praise from the Nobel literature laureate himself. “Shadia is a top quality actress who managed to give the prose of my novels body, blood and a distinctive form,” he once said about two of her most memorable roles: A rebellious woman in “Midq Alley” and a prostitute in “The Thief and the Dogs.”
Her songs defined the entertainment scene for decades, mostly with hit singles in Egypt’s distinctive vernacular Arabic. One patriotic song of hers, “Oh, Egypt, my beloved,” is routine radio and television fare on national holidays to this day. Playful singles like “Drive Slowly So We Can Chill” is one of many lighthearted songs that find resonance with most Egyptians to this day.
Shadia abruptly walked away from the limelight about three decades ago, embracing a strict version of Islam, donning the Islamic hijab and living a life of near total seclusion.
“I don’t want to wait until the limelight slowly, slowly moves away from me,” she told an interviewer at the time of her retirement. “I don’t want to play the roles of old mothers in movies after people grew accustomed to seeing me as the young woman in a lead role. I just don’t like people to see lines on my face.”
Shadia was married three times in her lifetime, but had no children. Two of her marriages were to film stars and heartthrobs Imad Hamdy and Salah Zulfaqar, with whom she co-starred in some of her most successful movies.