Mehran Karimi Nasseri, 76, lived at Charles de Gaulle airport for 18 years and died of a heart attack at terminal 2F.
An Iranian who lived 18 years at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and whose saga vaguely inspired the Steven Spielberg’s film The Terminal died in the airport he long called home.
Mehran Karimi Nasseri, 76, died Saturday after a heart attack in the airport’s terminal 2F around noon, according to a Paris airport official. The police and a medical team treated him but could not save him.
Nasseri lived in Terminal 1 at the airport from 1988 to 2006, first in legal limbo because he lacked residency papers and later apparently by choice.
He slept on a red plastic bench surrounded by boxes of newspapers and magazines and showered in the staff facilities. He spent his time writing in his diary, reading magazines, studying economics and surveying passing travelers.
The staff nicknamed him Lord Alfred and he became a mini-celebrity among the passengers.
“Finally, I will leave the airport,” he said. Told The Associated Press in 1999, smoking a pipe on his bench, looking frail with long fine 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. Upon his return, he said, he was imprisoned for protesting against the shah and deported without a passport.
He applied for political asylum in several countries in Europe, including the UK, but was rejected. Eventually, the UN refugee agency in Belgium issued him refugee certificates, but he said his briefcase containing the refugee certificate was stolen from a Paris train station.
The French police arrested him later, but could not deport him anywhere because he had no official documents. He found himself at Charles de Gaulle in August 1988, where he stayed.
Further bureaucratic blunders and increasingly strict European immigration laws kept him in a legal no-man’s land for years.
When he finally received the refugee papers, he described his surprise – and insecurity – about leaving the airport, the authority official said. He reportedly refused to sign them and ended up staying there for several more years until he was hospitalized in 2006, then lived in a Parisian refuge.
Those who befriended him at the airport said the years spent in that windowless space took a toll on his mental state. The 1990s airport doctor worried about his physical and mental health and described him as “fossilized here”. A ticket agent friend compares him to an inmate unable to “live outside”.
In the weeks before his death, Nasseri had returned to live at Charles de Gaulle.
Nasseri’s mind-blowing story loosely inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film The Terminal starring Tom Hanks, as well as a French film Lost in Transit and an opera titled Flight.
In The Terminal, Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a man who arrives at JFK airport in New York from the fictional Eastern European country of Krakozhia and finds that an overnight political revolution has invalidated all his travel papers. Navorski is thrown into the international lounge at the airport and told he must stay there until his status is sorted out, which drags on as 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 approximately $250,000.
Nasseri also wrote an autobiography called The Terminal Man published in 2004.