Mehran Karimi Nasseri, 76, lived at Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years and died of a heart attack in Terminal 2F.
An Iranian who lived for 18 years at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, whose saga loosely inspired the Steven Spielberg film The Terminal, has died at the airport he long called home.
Mehran Karimi Nasseri, 76, died around noon on Saturday after suffering a heart attack in Terminal 2F of the airport, an official with the Paris airport authority said. Police and a medical team treated him but were unable to save him.
Nasseri lived in Terminal 1 of the airport from 1988 to 2006, initially in legal limbo because he lacked residence papers, and later apparently voluntarily.
He slept on a red plastic bench surrounded by boxes of newspapers and magazines and showered in staff facilities. He spent his time writing in his journal, reading magazines, studying economics, and interviewing passing travelers.
The staff nicknamed him Lord Alfred, and he became a mini-celebrity among the passengers.
“Eventually I’m going to leave the airport,” he told The Associated Press in 1999 while smoking a pipe on his bench and looking frail with long, thin hair, sunken eyes and sunken cheeks. “But I’m still waiting for a passport or transit visa.”
Nasseri was born in 1945 in Soleiman, part of Iran then under British jurisdiction, to an Iranian father and British mother. In 1974 he left Iran to study in England. When he returned, he was arrested for protesting against the Shah and expelled without a passport.
He applied for political asylum in several European countries, including the UK, but was turned down. Eventually, the UN refugee agency in Belgium gave him a refugee card, but he said his briefcase containing the refugee card was stolen at a Paris train station.
The French police later arrested him but could not deport him anywhere because he had no official documents. He ended up with Charles de Gaulle in August 1988, where he stayed.
More bureaucratic bungling and ever-tightening European immigration laws kept him in a legal no man’s land for years.
When he finally received refugee papers, he expressed his surprise — and uncertainty — at leaving the airport, the official said. He reportedly refused to sign them and ended up staying there for a few more years until being hospitalized in 2006 and later living in a Parisian home.
Those who befriended him at the airport said years of living in the windowless room affected his mental health. Concerned about his physical and mental health in the 1990s, the airport doctor described him as “petrified here”. A ticket seller friend likened him to a prisoner who was unable to “live outside”.
In the weeks leading up to his death, Nasseri returned to live with Charles de Gaulle.
Nasseri’s startling story inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film 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 and discovers that a political revolution has overnight invalidated all of his travel documents. Navorski is thrown into the airport’s international lounge and told he must remain there until his status is resolved, which drags on while the unrest in Krakozhia continues.
According to The New York Times, Spielberg bought the rights to Nasseri’s life story through his production company, DreamWorks, paying around $250,000.
Nasseri also wrote an autobiography, The Terminal Man, which was published in 2004.