'Indiana Jones' actor Ahmed El-Shenawi dies

 March 11, 2024

An Egyptian-born actor with a memorable role in the Indiana Jones series has passed away.

Ahmed El-Shenawi joined Harrison Ford for a famous scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in which "snake surprise" is served at an elaborate dinner.

The 75-year-old actor developed sepsis as a complication from a surgery to treat a fracture.

“I believe his brief but impactful moments of fame resonated so much among many,” his daughter Eman said.

Indiana Jones actor dies

The actor left his mark as a rotund, extravagantly dressed merchant with a cartoonish mustache who attends a banquet at the palace of an Indian prince.

In the famous scene, a boa constrictor is placed on the dinner table, then cut open to reveal baby snakes writhing inside.

With just three words, El-Shenwai conveys irrepressible delight: "Ah, snake surprise!"

Although his part was small, El-Shenwai impressed director Stephen Spielberg with his "Shakespearean" talent and "eloquent style," his daughter wrote in a 2011 tribute.

"Watching it back with my father beside me and seeing a very chubby man with a heavy fake moustache on the television screen, heavily dressed in embellished Indian clothing and a turban in keeping with the film’s setting, I always feel overwhelmed with pride. And I also cannot help but laugh a little," she wrote.

Bariatric surgery ended career

In real life, El-Shenawi was the son of a professional chef and one of six kids in an Egyptian household with a "lively family life," Eman told The Hollywood Reporter.

After studying business in college, he moved to Britain in 1971 and found work for the BBC as a radio actor for a program in Arabic. He went on to appear in British TV shows like The ProfessionalsCannon and BallMuck and Brass and Danger: Marmalade at Work.

Some of his other credits include the prison movie Midnight Express (1978), directed by Alan Parker, and Lars Von Trier's neo-noir The Element of Crime (1984), in which he hypnotizes the detective.Eventually, the character actor was put of out work when he underwent surgery to reduce his weight, but he took it all in stride.

“My character as the ‘chubby Arab man’ changed, and the agency would not find as much work for me as it did before when I was big,” he told his daughter. “But I was still thrilled that I could wear a better selection of suits!”

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