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Iranian man who made Paris airport his home for 18 years and inspired the film The Terminal dies

Bureaucratic bungling and European immigration laws kept him in legal no-man’s land for years

Rituparna Chatterjee
Sunday 13 November 2022 13:14 GMT
'The Terminal': The Insane Story Behind The Film

An Iranian man who made the main Paris airport of Charles de Gaulle his home for 18 years and inspired The Terminal died on Saturday, officials said.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri died of a heart attack in the airport’s Terminal 2F around midday, the Associated Press quoted an official with the Paris airport authority as saying.

Nasseri loosely inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film The Terminal portraying Tom Hanks as Viktor Navorski – an Eastern European man stuck in New York‘s John F Kennedy Airport terminal after being denied entry to the United States while being unable to return to his native country because of a military coup.

Spielberg’s Dreamworks production company reportedly paid Nasseri $250,000 for the rights to his story.

A medical team treated Nasseri but were not able to revive him. Nasseri lived in the airport’s Terminal 1 from 1988 until 2006, first in legal limbo because he lacked residency papers and later by apparent choice.

He slept on a red plastic bench, making friends with airport workers, showering in staff facilities and surveying passing travellers. Staff nicknamed him Lord Alfred, and he became a mini-celebrity among passengers.

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

He was born in 1945 in Soleiman, a part of Iran then under British jurisdiction. 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 was stolen in a Paris train station.

French police later arrested him, but couldn’t deport him anywhere because he had no official documents. He ended up at Charles de Gaulle in August 1988 and stayed.

Further bureaucratic bungling 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 his insecurity, about leaving the airport. He reportedly refused to sign them, and ended up staying there several more years until he was hospitalized in 2006, and later lived in a Paris shelter.

In the weeks before his death, Nasseri had been again living at Charles de Gaulle, the airport official said.

With additional inputs from agencies

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