An Iranian man who lived at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for 18 years and whose saga loosely inspired Steven Spielberg’s film 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, estimated to be in his late 70s, lived in the airport’s Terminal 1 from 1988 to 2006, first in legal uncertainty due to lack of residency papers and later through 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 The Bharat Express News in 1999, smoking a pipe on his couch, 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 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 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Belgium gave him refugee credentials, but Nasseri said his briefcase containing the refugee certificate was stolen at a train station in Paris.
The French police later arrested him, but they were unable to deport him anywhere as 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 Nasseri finally received refugee papers, he described his surprise — and uncertainty — at leaving the airport. He reportedly refused to sign the documents and remained there for several more years until he was hospitalized in 2006. Later he lived in a shelter in Paris.
Years of airport life took a mental toll
Those who befriended Nasseri 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, he was living in Charles de Gaulle again, the airport official said.
Nasseri’s mind-boggling story loosely inspired Spielberg’s 2004 film the terminal starring Tom Hanks, as well as a French film, Lost in transitand an opera called Flight.
In the terminalHanks plays Viktor Navorski, a man who arrives at the JFK airport in New York from the fictional Eastern European country of Krakozhia to find that an overnight political revolution has invalidated his travel papers. 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 was not immediately available about Nasseri’s survivors.