Iranian who inspired ‘The Terminal’ dies at Paris airport

The story of an Iranian man who lived at Paris-Charles de Gaulle for 18 years roughly inspired Steven Spielberg film “Terminal” died Saturday at the airport he had long called home, officials said.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri died after suffering a heart attack in the airport’s Terminal 2F around noon, according to an official with the Paris airport authority. Police and medical teams treated him but were unable to save him, the official said. The official was not authorized to release his name.

Nasseri, who lived in the airport’s Terminal 1 from 1988 to 2006, was initially in legal trouble over a lack of residence papers and then apparently chose to.

Year after year, he slept on red plastic benches, befriended airport staff, showered in staff facilities, wrote diaries, read magazines and surveyed passing travelers.

Nicknamed “Lord Alfred” by staff, he became a minor celebrity among the passengers.

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

Nasseri was born in Suleiman, a part of Iran then under British administration, in 1945 to an Iranian father and a British mother. He left Iran in 1974 to study in the UK. When he returned, he was jailed for protesting against the Shah and deported without a passport, he said.

He has applied for political asylum in several European countries. Belgium’s UNHCR gave him a refugee card, but he said his briefcase containing it was stolen at a Paris train station.

French police later arrested him but could not deport him because there were no official documents. In August 1988, he finally came to Charles de Gaulle, and stayed.

Further bureaucracy and increasingly strict European immigration laws have kept him in a legal no man’s land for years.

When he finally received the refugee papers, he described being surprised and disturbed when he left the airport. He reportedly refused to sign and ended up staying there for a few more years until he was hospitalized in 2006 and later in a Paris sanctuary.

Those who met him at the airport said years of living in a windowless space had taken a toll on his mental state. Airport doctors in the 1990s were concerned about his physical and mental health, describing him as “frozen here”. A conductor friend likened him to a prisoner who couldn’t “live outside”.

In the weeks before his death, Nasseri lived again at Charles de Gaulle, airport officials said.

Nasseri’s incredible story roughly inspired 2004’s “Terminal” starring Tom Hanks, as well as a French film “Lost on the Road” and an opera called “Flight.”

In The Terminal, Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, who arrives at New York’s JFK Airport from the fictional Eastern European country of Krakozhia only to find that an overnight political revolution has rendered all his travel documents invalid up. Victor was thrown into the airport’s international lounge and told he had to stay there until his status was resolved, which dragged on as unrest in Krakozhia continued.

There is currently no information on survivors.


Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.


Associated Press Jeffrey Shaffer

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