An Iranian man who lived at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport for 18 years and whose saga loosely inspired the Steven Spielberg-directed film “The Terminal” died Saturday at the airport he long called home, authorities said.
Mehran Karimi Nasseri died at the airport’s Terminal 2F around midday after suffering a cardiac arrest , according to a Paris airport authority official. The police and a medical team attended to him, but were unable to save him, the agent added – that he was not authorized to reveal his name.
Nasseri lived in Terminal 1 of the airport from 1988 to 2006, first in legal limbo because he lacked residency documents and then apparently by choice.
Year after year, he slept on a red plastic bench and made friends with airport workers, bathed in the staff facilities, wrote his diary, read magazines and watched transit passengers.
The staff nicknamed him Lord Alfred and he became a bit of a celebrity among the passengers.
“Eventually I will leave the airport,” he told the AP agency in 1999, sitting on his bench smoking a pipe, looking frail, with little hair, sunken eyes and gaunt cheeks. “But I’m still waiting for a passport or a transit visa.”
Who was Mehran Karimi Nasseri?
The son of an Iranian father and a British mother, Nassari was born in 1945 in Soleiman, a part of Iran under British jurisdiction. He left Iran to study in England in 1974. When he returned, he said, he was jailed for protesting against the shah and expelled without a passport.
He requested political asylum in several European countries. He was granted refugee credentials by the UNHCR in Belgium , but Nasseri said his briefcase containing the refugee certificate was stolen at a train station in Paris.
French police later arrested him, but could not deport him anywhere because he lacked official documents. He came to Charles de Gaulle in August 1988 and stayed.
Other bureaucratic errors 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 insecurity at leaving the airport. According to reports, he refused to sign them and ended up staying there for several more years until he was hospitalized in 2006 and later lived in a hostel in Paris.
In the weeks before his death, Nasseri had returned to live at Charles de Gaulle, the airport official said.
Nasseri’s mind-boggling story loosely inspired the 2004 film “The Terminal” starring Tom Hanks, as well as a French film, “Lost in Transit” and an opera called “Flight.”