Iranian man who inspired Tom Hanks movie “The Terminal” dies at Paris airport

The Iranian man who inspired the 2004 Steven Spielberg movie “The Terminal” died Saturday at Paris airport, where he lived for nearly 20 years, officials said.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri died at Charles de Gaulle Airport, his home for 18 years, of a heart attack in Terminal 2F of the airport around midday, according to an official with the Paris Airport Authority.

An official said emergency services treated him at the scene but were unable to save him.

File – Mirhan Karimi Nasseri sits among his belongings in Terminal 1 at Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris, on August 11, 2004.
(AP Photo/Michael Euler, File)

Nasseri’s life was the inspiration for the American comedy, which starred Tom Hanks as Victor Navorsky, a man from the eastern European country of Krakow, who is stranded and forced to live at JFK Airport.

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The real person behind the fictional story lived in Terminal 1 of Paris Airport from 1988 until 2006, initially as a result of an unsuccessful deportation that turned into a legal stalemate.

He later remained by his clear choice.

As the years passed, Nasseri became a celebrity, sleeping on a red plastic bench, making friends with airport workers, bathing in staff facilities, and reading magazines.

“Eventually, I’m leaving the airport. But I’m still waiting for a passport or transit visa,” he told The Associated Press in 1999.

A traveler walks through the aisles of Terminal 2 at Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport, in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, on September 16, 2022.

A traveler walks through the aisles of Terminal 2 at Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport, in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, on September 16, 2022.
(Julian de Rosa/AFP via Getty Images)

Born in 1945 in Suleiman, Nasseri left Iran to study in England in 1974. He said he was imprisoned upon returning home for protesting against the Shah.

He was subsequently expelled without a passport.

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His legal troubles increased when he applied for asylum in Belgium and was granted by the UNHCR in Belgium, but he said the refugee’s certificate was stolen at a Paris train station.

Then the French police arrested Nasseri and faced deportation, but they lacked official documents.

Then he was sent to Charles de Gaulle in August 1988, where he stayed.

This photo, taken on September 16, 2022, shows travelers looking at the departure information board at Terminal 2 at Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport.

This photo, taken on September 16, 2022, shows travelers looking at the departure information board at Terminal 2 at Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport.
(Julian de Rosa/AFP via Getty Images)

European immigration laws have become stricter over the years preventing any rescue of his legal status. But he eventually received his asylum papers.

When faced with the reality that he might have to leave the airport he had grown up to enjoy as his new home, he reportedly refused to sign it.

Nasseri was hospitalized in 2006, and later moved to an asylum in Paris.

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

His story has loosely inspired Spielberg as well as a French film, Lost in Transit, and an opera, Flight.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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