Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the Man Who Inspired Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Terminal,’ Dies in Paris Airport at 80

The Iran native lived in Charles de Gaulle Airport from 1988 to 2006

Tom Hanks The Terminal Mehran Karimi Nasseri
Mehran Karimi Nasseri was the subject of the film "The Terminal," starring Tom Hanks. (BBC/DreamWorks)

Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian man whose 18-year residence in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport loosely inspired the 2004 film “The Terminal,” has died of a heart attack, the AP reported. Nasseri died in Terminal 2F, not far from Terminal 1, where he lived from 1988 to 2006. He was 80 years old.

Nasseri was born in Soleiman, Iran, which was under British jurisdiction at the time. Upon his return from studying in England in 1974, he was reportedly jailed for protesting the Shah and kicked out of the country. Without a passport, he sought political asylum in various European countries and was approved to settle down in Belgium when the briefcase containing his papers was stolen in Paris. He eventually ended up in the airport, where he became something of a local celebrity among the staff and travelers.

In 1999, a 54-year-old Nasseri was finally granted asylum in Belgium again. However, he turned down the opportunity to move and would remain in the airport for another seven years.

“Eventually, I will leave the airport,” he told The Associated Press at the time. “But I am still waiting for a passport or transit visa.”

After a stint in the hospital and in a Paris shelter, Nasseri made his way back to Charles de Gaulle Airport, where he lived out his final years.

His story was loosely adapted into Steven Spielberg’s 2004 dramedy “The Terminal.” The film stars Tom Hanks as Viktor Navorski, a passenger from a fictional Balkan country who gets stuck in New York’s JFK Airport after a civil war erupts in his home country. Unable to return home or enter the United States without a valid passport, he takes up residence in one of the terminals. “The Terminal” was a box office success, grossing $77.8 million domestically and over $219 million worldwide.

Unlike the character he is based on, Nasseri spent most of his airport stay reading, journaling and talking with workers and travellers passing by.

Nasseri, nicknamed “Lord Alfred” or “Sir Alfred” by the staff, was also the subject of the mockumentary “Here to Where” (2002), the 2000 documentaries “Sir Alfred of Charles de Galle Airport” and “Waiting for Godot at De Gaulle,” the opera “Flight” (1998) and the 1993 French film “Lost in Transit.”