Iranian man who inspired ‘The Terminal’ dies at Paris airport

PARIS (AP) — An Iranian who lived for 18 years at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport and whose saga loosely inspired the Steven Spielberg’s film “The Terminal” he died Saturday at the airport he had long called home, authorities said.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri died after a heart attack at the airport’s Terminal 2F around noon, according to a Paris airport authority official. Police and a medical team treated him but were unable to save him, the official said. The official was not authorized to be publicly named.

Nasseri lived in Terminal 1 of the airport from 1988 to 2006, first in legal limbo because he did not have residency papers and then by apparent choice.

Year after year, he slept on a red plastic bench, befriended airport workers, showered in the staff quarters, wrote in his journal, read magazines, and surveyed passing travelers.

The staff nicknamed him Lord Alfred and he became a mini-celebrity among the passengers.

“Eventually, I will leave the airport,” he said. told The Associated Press in 1999, smoking a pipe on his bench, looking frail with long thin hair, sunken eyes and sunken cheeks. “But I’m still waiting for a passport or a transit visa.”

Nasseri was born in 1945 in Soleiman, a part of Iran then under British jurisdiction, to an Iranian father and a British mother. He left Iran to study in England in 1974. When he returned, he said, he was jailed for protesting against the shah and expelled without a passport.

He requested political asylum in several European countries. UNHCR in Belgium gave her refugee credentials, but she said her briefcase containing the refugee certificate was stolen from a Paris train station.

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Later, the French police arrested him, but could not deport him anywhere because he had no official documents. He ended up at Charles de Gaulle in August 1988 and stayed.

More bureaucratic bungling and increasingly strict European immigration laws kept him in a legal no man’s land for years.

When she finally received her refugee papers, she described her surprise and insecurity upon leaving the airport. He reportedly refused to sign them and ended up staying there for several more years until he was hospitalized in 2006 and then lived in a Paris shelter.

Those who befriended him at the airport said years of living in the windowless space took a toll on his state of mind. The airport doctor in the 1990s worried about his physical and mental health, describing him as “here fossilized.” A box office friend compared him to a prisoner incapable of “living abroad.”

In the weeks before his death, Nasseri had returned to live at Charles de Gaulle, the airport official said.

Nasseri’s mind-bending story loosely inspired 2004’s “The Terminal,” starring Tom Hanks, as well as a French film, “Lost in Transit” and an opera called “Flight.”

In “The Terminal,” Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a man who arrives at New York’s JFK airport from the fictional Eastern European country of Krakozhia, only to discover that an overnight political revolution has invalidated all his travel documents. Viktor is thrown into the airport’s international lounge and told that he must remain there until his condition is resolved, which drags on as the riots in Krakozhia continue.

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No information was immediately available on the survivors.


Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.


This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Nasseri’s first name to Mehran, not Merhan.

Jeffrey Schaeffer, Associated Press