Officials at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport confirmed on Saturday that an Iranian man who had lived there for 18 years and whose story inspired the Steven Spielberg film “The Terminal” had passed away.
A terminal 2F employee at Paris’s airport has confirmed that Mehran Karimi Nasseri died of a heart attack about noon. The official stated that despite the best efforts of the police and medical personnel, he was unable to be revived. The official’s identity can’t be revealed for security reasons.
Initially in a gray area of the law due to his lack of residency documents, Nasseri spent the next twenty years of his life in Terminal 1 of the airport.
He slept on the same red plastic seat in the airport year after year, making friends with the staff, taking showers in the employee bathrooms, keeping a diary, reading magazines, and people-watching.
The crew began referring to him as “Lord Alfred,” and he quickly gained fame among the ship’s clientele.
Speaking to The Associated Press in 1999 while sitting on the airport bench and puffing on a pipe, he said, “Eventually, I will leave the airport.” He had long, thin hair, sunken eyes, and hollow cheeks. Still, “I haven’t received my passport or transit visa yet.”
Nasseri was born to an Iranian father and a British mother in Soleiman, an area of Iran at the time under British rule, in 1945. In 1974, he fled Iran for higher education in England. He claimed that upon his return he was arrested for participating in anti-shah protests and deported because he did not have a passport.
Multiple European countries received his asylum applications. He had refugee credentials issued to him by the UNHCR in Belgium, but claimed that his briefcase, which contained the certificate, had been stolen from a Paris railway station.
The French police then arrested him, but they were unable to deport him because he lacked proper documentation. In August of 1988, he accidentally arrived to Charles de Gaulle and decided to stay.
He was stuck in a legal limbo for a long time due to procedural mishaps and the tightening of European immigration policies.
After receiving his refugee papers, he revealed his shock and apprehension upon leaving the airport. Refusing to sign them, he stayed for a number of more years until he was hospitalized in 2006 and eventually moved into a Paris shelter.
Friends he made in the airport believed he’d gone crazy from spending so much time indoors with no natural light. His mental and physical health were concerns for the airport doctor in the 1990s, who said he was “fossilized here.” An acquaintance who works in the ticket industry likened him to an inmate who could never “live on the outside.”
According to the airport officer, Nasseri had returned to the Charles de Gaulle in the weeks leading up to his death.
The 2004 Tom Hanks film “The Terminal,” the French film “Lost in Transit,” and the opera “Flight” are all tangentially based on Nasseri’s mind-boggling story.
Viktor Navorski, played by Tom Hanks in “The Terminal,” is a man from the fictional Eastern European country of Krakozhia who lands at New York’s JFK Airport only to find that an overnight political revolution has rendered all of his travel documents useless. Since the turmoil in Krakozhia has yet to be resolved, Viktor has been placed in the airport’s international lounge and forced to wait there until his status is sorted out.