By Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) - Syrian film, television, and theater pioneer Rafiq Sebaie - best known to audiences as Abu Sayyah after one of his long-standing roles - has died at the age of 86.

Syrian state media said Sebaie, who was awarded “Actor of the People” title by late President Hafez Assad, died of natural causes Thursday.

Sebaie, often cast in tough-guy roles, rose to fame in the 1960s and 1970s, when Syrian cinema was considered among the best in the Arab world.

He enjoyed the appreciation of Hafez Assad, father of embattled President Bashar Assad, and repaid the sentiment as an outspoken supporter of the ruling family.

After Syria’s conflict broke out in 2011, Sebaie would appear on state TV criticizing opposition fighters in what he said was a conspiracy against the country.

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