The Iranian who was the inspiration for ‘The Terminal’ dies at Paris airport

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

Mehran Karimi Nasseri died of a heart attack in Terminal 2F at the airport this afternoon, according to an official of the Paris Airport Authority. The official said that the police and a medical team treated him but were unable to save him. The official is not authorized to reveal his name.

Nasseri lived in Terminal 1 at the airport from 1988 until 2006, initially in legal trouble because he lacked residency papers and later by his own obvious choice.

Year after year, he slept on a red plastic bench, made friends with airport workers, bathed in staff facilities, wrote in his diaries, read magazines, and surveyed travelers in transit.

The crew called him Lord Alfred, and he became a celebrity among the passengers.

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

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

He applied for political asylum in several countries in Europe. UNHCR Belgium granted him credentials as a refugee, but he said his bag containing the refugee certificate was stolen at a Paris train station.

The French police arrested him later, but could not deport him anywhere because he did not have official documents. He ended up at Charles de Gaulle in August 1988 and stayed.

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

When he finally got asylum papers, he described his surprise and insecurity at leaving the airport. He reportedly refused to sign it, and ended up staying there several more years until he was hospitalized in 2006, later living in an asylum in Paris.

Those who befriended him at the airport said that years of living in a windowless space affected his mental state. The airport doctor in the 1990s was concerned about his physical and mental health, calling him “petrified here”. A friend of the ticket agent likened him to a prisoner unable to “live abroad”.

The airport official said Nasseri was again living in Charles de Gaulle in the weeks before his death.

Nasiri’s loosely tale inspired the 2004 film The Terminal starring Tom Hanks, as well as a French film Lost in Transit and an opera called Flight Flight.

In “Terminal,” Hanks plays Victor Navorsky, a man who arrives at New York’s JFK Airport from the fictional eastern European country of Krakowski and discovers that an overnight political revolution has invalidated all of his travel papers. Victor is thrown into the international airport terminal and told that he must stay there until his situation is settled, which continues as the unrest continues in Krakowski.

No information was immediately available on survivors.


Angela Charlton contributed from Paris.


This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Nasiri’s first name for Mahran, not Marhan.

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