Egypt mourns death of actress, singer and cultural icon Shadia

Shadia in the early 1950s.
Shadia in the early 1950s.
(AFP/Getty Images)

Shadia, an Egyptian actress and singer who captivated millions for decades with memorable singles and iconic film roles but then vanished from public view and lived a life of seclusion, has died.

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 Sisi and his wife.

She died late Tuesday of complications from the stroke. She was 86.

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.

Mourners at the funeral of renowned Egyptian actress and singer Shadia at al-Sayyida Nafisa mosque in Cairo.
(HOSSAM/EPA/Shutterstock / )

“She has been away from the entertainment scene for 30 years, but she has throughout remained close to people’s hearts,” said Tareq Shinnawy, a prominent film critic.

Shadia has more than 100 films to her name and hundreds of singles in a career that stretches 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 — the decades between the 1940s and 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 across the entire Arab world. Her film roles were diverse and engaging: willful country girls, career city women, and comical portrayals of emotionally disturbed women and hopeless romantics.

She had roles in two films based on novels by Egypt’s late Naguib Mahfouz, who praised her work.

“Shadia is a top-quality actress who managed to give the prose of my novels body, blood and a distinctive form,” he said of two of her most memorable roles: A rebellious woman in “Midq Alley” and a prostitute in “The Thief and the Dogs.”


Her songs have 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 light-hearted songs that find resonance with most Egyptians to this day.

Shadia abruptly walked away from the limelight nearly 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 said 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, but had no children.