United Kingdom

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


PARIS (UKTN) – An Iranian man who has lived at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for 18 years and whose saga loosely inspired the Steven Spielberg movie “The Terminal” died Saturday at the airport he long called home, officials said.

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

Nasseri lived in Terminal 1 of the airport from 1988 to 2006, first in legal uncertainty due to lack of residency papers and later by apparent choice.

Year after year he slept on a red plastic couch, made friends with airport employees, showered in staff facilities, wrote in his diary, read magazines and observed passing travelers.

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

“Eventually I will leave the airport,” he told The UK Time News in 1999, smoking a pipe on his couch, looking frail with long thin hair, sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. “But I am still waiting for a passport or transit visa.”

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

He applied for political asylum in several countries in Europe. The UNHCR in Belgium gave him refugee credentials, but he said his briefcase containing the refugee certificate had been stolen at a train station in Paris.

The French police later arrested him but were unable to deport him anywhere because he had no official documents. He joined Charles de Gaulle in August 1988 and stayed there.

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

When he finally received refugee papers, he described his surprise and uncertainty about leaving the airport. He reportedly refused to sign them and remained there for several more years until he was hospitalized in 2006 and later moved to a shelter in Paris.

Those who befriended him at the airport said the years of living in the windowless space had a negative impact on his mental state. The airport doctor was concerned about his physical and mental health in the 1990s, describing him as “petrified here.” A ticket agent friend compared him to a prisoner who was unable to “live outside.”

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

Nasseri’s mind-boggling 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 and discovers that overnight a political revolution has invalidated all his travel documents. Dumped in the airport’s international lounge, Viktor is told to stay there until his status is settled, which drags on as unrest continues in Krakozhia.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.