PARIS (AP) — An Iranian man who lived in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport for 18 years and whose story loosely inspired Steven Spielberg’s movie “The Terminal” died Saturday at the airport he had long called home, officials said.
Mehran Karimi Naseri died of a heart attack at the airport’s Terminal 2F around noon, an official at the Paris Airport Authority said. Police and a medical team treated him but could not save him, the official said. The official was not authorized to be named publicly.
Naseri lived in the airport’s Terminal 1 from 1988 to 2006, first in legal limbo because he lacked residency papers and later by apparent choice.
For years, he slept on a red plastic bench, befriended airport staff, showered in staff facilities, wrote in his diary, read magazines and surveyed travelers.
The staff nicknamed him Lord Alfred and he became a mini-celebrity among the passengers.
“Finally, I’ll leave the airport,” he said told the Associated Press in 1999, smoking a pipe on his bench, looking frail with long thinning hair, sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. “But I’m still waiting for a passport or a transit visa.”
Naseri was born in 1945 in Soleimani, a part of Iran, then under British jurisdiction, to an Iranian father and a British mother. He left Iran in 1974 to study in England. When he returned, he said, he was imprisoned and deported without a passport for protesting against the Shah.
I have applied for political asylum in various European countries. UNHCR in Belgium issued him a refugee certificate, but he said the briefcase containing his refugee certificate was stolen from a train station in Paris.
French police later arrested him, but could not extradite him because he had no official documents. He ended up at Charles de Gaulle in August 1988 and stayed.
More bureaucratic hassles and increasingly strict European immigration laws kept him stuck in a legal no-man’s land for years.
When he finally received his refugee papers, he described his surprise and his insecurities about leaving the airport. He reportedly refused to sign them, and remained there for several more years until he was hospitalized in 2006 and later lived in an asylum in Paris.
Those who befriended him at the airport said years of living in the windowless space had taken a toll on his mental state. In the 1990s the airport doctor was concerned about his physical and mental health and described him as “a fossil here”. A ticket agent friend likened him to a prisoner unable to “stay out”.
In the weeks before his death, Naseri was again living at Charles de Gaulle, airport officials said.
Naseri’s mind-boggling story inspired the 2004 film “The Terminal” starring Tom Hanks, as well as a French film “Lost in Transit” and an opera called “Flight.”
In “The Terminal,” Hanks plays Viktor Navorsky, who arrives at New York’s JFK Airport from the fictional Eastern European country of Krakow and discovers that an overnight political revolution has canceled all his travel documents. Victor is dropped off at the airport’s international lounge and told he has to stay there until his status is fixed, which drags on as unrest continues in Krakow.
There was no immediate information on survivors.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Naseri’s first name to Mehran, not Merhan.