A life of ups and downs: Curtain falls on Arab superstar Sabah

Sabah, who was humorously mocked for her - at least - nine marriages, experienced financial difficulties

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Lebanese legend Sabah, dubbed the Madonna of the Middle East, was confirmed dead Wednesday in Lebanon aged 87, marking the end of a career that spanned six decades.

Sabah, whose real name was Jeanette Feghali, first came to prominence in the 1950s as a singer and actress in Egyptian movies.

“All Egyptians loved her and adopted her,” Lebanese composer Elias al-Rahbani told Al Arabiya News.

The reason behind her success in Egypt was her collaborations with Egyptian composers, including Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Rahbani added.

Read Also: The Cairo connection: tracing late Sabah's Egyptian beginnings.

Lebanese “were proud she made it in Egypt. We were proud to see how much Egyptian people loved her,” he said, adding that she was “truly one of a kind.”

Some of her most famous Egyptian songs include “Zay el-Assal” (“Like Honey”) and “Men Sehr Eyounak” (“From the Magic of your Eyes”).

Rahbani, who composed 52 songs for Sabah, compared her to Egyptian legend Umm Kulthoum.

Nicknamed “shahroura,” Arabic for “singing bird,” Sabah’s career included more than 3,000 songs and over 90 films.

She is “an icon for Lebanon and the Arab world,” Rahbani said, adding that Lebanon has seen few artists like her.

“She used to travel the world and amaze fans everywhere with her unique voice, her elegant looks and her presence.”

The peroxide-blond performed at the prestigious Olympia in Paris, Carnegie Hall in New York, Piccadilly Theatre in London, and the Sydney Opera House.

Sabah’s professional success did not seem to mirror her personal life.

Lebanese art critic Dr. Jamal Fayad told Al Arabiya News that: “When it comes to her personal life, just like the majority of artists, she had struggles and psychological difficulties.”

“Artists focus on their art work and forget about family relations in a way that could lead to crises and challenges,” Fayad added. He said television series about Sabah’s life “did not do her justice.”

“In my opinion, Sabah deserves to be documented in a better way than that of the TV series,” he said.

In recent years, Sabah, who was humorously mocked for her - at least - nine marriages, experienced financial difficulties.

Her relationships ran from a month to 17 years, the National News Agency reported.

She was born to a Christian family in the village of Bdedoun near Beirut in 1927. She was mother to a son, Sabah, and a daughter, Huwaida.

No cause of death was given, but her health had been declining in recent years, local media reported.

The announcement of her death was “expected... given the deterioration of her health,” said Rahbani.

Condolences have filled Lebanese radio and TV broadcasts, as well as social media.

The U.S. embassy in Beirut published a statement on its Facebook page calling Sabah “a bright, shining image of the Lebanese people.”

Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt tweeted: “She was a great singer of a Lebanon that my generation knew that will never come back.”

Lebanese singer Ragheb Alameh tweeted: “Our giants are leaving, our cedars are diminishing. Farewell our shahroura, our beloved, rest in peace.”

A funeral will be held on Sunday in downtown Beirut.

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