Ahmed Zaki (Arabic:أحمد زكى Ahmed Zaky; November 18, 1949 – March 27, 2005) was a leading Egyptian film star. He was characterised by his talent, skill and ability in impersonating. He was also famous for his on-screen vehemence, often genuinely hitting co-stars during scenes of violence.
Ahmed Zaki was born in the Nile Delta city of Zagazig, about 50 miles north of Cairo, Egypt. He graduated from Zagazig's Crafts School in 1967, and then traveled to Cairo to study cinema before he graduated from the Cairo Higher Institute for Drama Studies in 1974.
For 30 years, Ahmed Zaki impressed his audiences by playing comic, romantic and tragic roles in theater, cinema and on television. He was considered a super star among his generation. Ahmed had his first chance to professionally act while he was still studying at the Theatre Institute in 1969: he was cast in a small part as a room service attendant in the comedy play Hello Shalabi; (the original actor didn't show up, and Ahmed who was working as Soft Drinks vendor at the time, managed to get the fill-in on one night) he managed to make an impressive comic sketch, notably impersonating the celebrated villain actor Mahmoud el-Meliguy which managed to let everyone take note of his impressive, natural performance. Such impersonation was Zaki's favourite hobby, and it was a skill he developed over time.
People in the street often hailed him as Sbel, in reference to his role in the classic comedy play Madrasit El-Mushaghibin (The School for Trouble Makers). His leap to stardom began when he got a leading role in the successful 1978 comedy play Al-Iyal Kibrit (The Children have Grown Up) then his television impersonation of the blind Egyptian literateur Taha Hussein ("the dean of Arabic literature") in the serial drama of the latter's eponymous autobiography El-Ayyam (The Days).
He made his first film, Abnaa Elsamt (Children of Silence), in 1974. By 1980 he had made six films, including (Alexandria, Why?) with Egypt's best known director, Yusuf Shahin. Zaki appeared in more than 60 films throughout his career.
Many of his films were written by screenwriter Wahid Hamed and had a strong political message that exposed governmental and police corruption. He also starred in the famous 1980s television comedy musical series Howa we Heya with actress Souad Houssni. Zaki also starred in a series of successful action movies during the mid-and late-1990s.
Two of his greatest successes were playing Egypt's presidents in two popular movies that became landmarks of Arabic cinema. He played presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser in Nasser 56 1996, a movie that centered on the fateful summer of 1956 when then-President Nasser nationalizing the Suez Canal), and Anwar Sadat in the movie The Days of Sadat (2001) with director Mohammed Khan which he also produced. The movie depicted 40 years of the late president's life. He also had plans to play president Hosni Mubarak in a third movie. He is also known for portraying prominent characters in Egyptian history like Taha Hussein.
Zaki was seen as an icon and spokesperson for the average Egyptian youth, he was also considered the heir to Farid Shawki as Malek El Terso ("The King of the Third Class" - a reference to his popularity among the poor, who bought third-class seats in movie theatres) in an Egyptian magazine. Ironically the two starred together in two movies several years earlier.
He was a known heavy smoker. Zaki had been in intensive care at Dar al-Fuad Hospital in Sixth of October City, just outside Cairo, and died of lung cancer complications, after president Hosni Mubarak offered to send him to France for medical treatment at the government's expense and granting him the Merit of Arts award for his work in over 50 movies.
A book about Zaki has been released under the title of “Ahmad Zaki wa Symphoniet Ibda’” (Ahmad Zaki: A Symphonic Innovation Masterpiece). The book features details of his acting career and includes a compilation of articles by different critics including Tareq Al Shinawi, Mohammad Al Shafe’ee and Waleed Saif.