Live talk show hosts, visibly upset and shedding tears of their own, took in calls from throughout Egypt and the rest of the Arab world, as fans phoned in their condolences and memories of an actor who represented the best theatre and the silver screen had to offer.

"I can't believe he's gone. He was strong to the end, always fighting, like his character the Black Tiger," Nadia Shawki, a student of acting, told Aljazeera.net.

Ahmad Zaki, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2004 and came close to losing the battle several times over the course of the year, died early on Sunday after slipping into a coma over the weekend.

He had been admitted to hospital in late January after succumbing to cancer-related complications.

He had been filming scenes for a bio-pic of a much loved singer, Abd al-Halim Hafidh, also known as The Brunet Nightingale.

The film had neared completion but a few scenes were yet to be shot.

Rise to fame

Zaki rose to fame in the mid-1970s on the heels of such popular theatre productions as School of Delinquents, featuring other prominent comedians, and The Children Have All Grown Up.

Zaki had excelled at playing
historic Egyptian characters

Although he earned acclaim for his theatre roles, Zaki's move to celluloid broadened his appeal to a larger Arab audience.

Film critics have said that 10 of his feature films are among the top 100 Egyptian films of the past 100 years.

In the mid-1990s Zaki played two historic leaders in two different films - Arab nationalist president Gamal Abd al-Nasir in Nasser 56, and president Anwar al-Sadat in Sadat.

But perhaps one of his more enduring roles was the young upstart boxer, nicknamed the Black Tiger, who travelled to Germany in a rags-to-riches journey which mimicked his own meagre beginnings.

"In the past year, he learned how loved he was," actor and friend Said Salih said.

National funeral

On Monday, his coffin, draped in the Egyptian flag, was placed on a hearse and driven from Six October City, 40km beyond Cairo, for burial.

Tens of thousands of weeping fans thronged the streets and brought the capital to a standstill as Egyptian government officials, including several ministers, and top artists gathered in the capital's Mustafa Mahmud mosque to bid their last farewell.

 

Zaki leaves behind a 21-year-old son he had with Egyptian actress Hala Fuad, who died aged 34 of a brain tumour.