Mehran Karimi Nasseri: Iranian Man Who Made Charles de Gaulle Airport Home for 18 Years and Inspired Spielberg's 'The Terminal' Dies of Heart Attack

Nasseri lived in Charles de Gaulle airport from 1988 until 2006, first after being caught in a diplomatic limbo and later by choice.

The Iranian man who inspired Tom Hanks' blockbuster film 'The Terminal' died after suffering a heart attack at the Parisian airport which he called home for 18 years. Iranian exile Mehran Karimi Nasseri died at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport's Terminal 2F on Saturday, according to an official with the Paris airport authority.

Police and a medical team treated Nasseri but were not able to save him, an airport spokesperson said. Nasseri lived in Charles de Gaulle airport from 1988 until 2006, first after being caught in a diplomatic limbo and later by choice. He had lately returned to the airport and settled in Terminal 2F after spending several years in a shelter in Paris.

Died at Home, Away from Home

Mehran Karimi Nasseri
Mehran Karimi Nasseri Twitter

Police and medical personnel were sent to Charles de Gaulle's Terminal 2F on Saturday after there were reports that Nasseri had suffered a heart attack. According to an airport official, he was could not be saved despite desperate efforts.

Nasseri died shortly before noon. He was 77. Nasseri, who is believed to have been born in 1945, was left detained in the airport when he initially came to France due to a lack of residency papers.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri
Mehran Karimi Nasseri Twitter

Nasseri, who according to The Guardian went by the name "Sir Alfred," was unable to enter France in the late 1980s after falling victim to an immigration trap.

He then started living in Terminal 1 of the airport which he made home from 1988 to 2006, first out of necessity and then by choice.

He slept on a red plastic bench every year, making friends with airport staff, taking showers in the staff bathrooms, journaling, reading periodicals, and keeping an eye on the passing travelers.

Over the years, he developed a huge fan following among the passengers. His story served as the basis for the Steven Spielberg directed and Tom Hanks starring 'The Terminal' and later a French film.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri
Mehran Karimi Nasseri at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris Twitter

"Eventually, I will leave the airport," he told The Associated Press in 1999, while 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."

Nasseri made the decision to stay even though an airport spokeswoman at the time said he had been free to come and go since 1999.

Living Life on His Own Terms

Nasseri was born to an Iranian father and a British mother in Soleiman, an area of Iran that was then governed by the British. In 1974, he left Iran to attend college in England. He claimed upon his return that he was imprisoned for participating in anti-Shah protests and expelled without a passport.

The Terminal
Poster of Tom Hanks-starrer The Terminal that was inspired by Mehran Karimi Nasseri's life Twitter

Later investigations revealed that he may not have actually been exiled from Iran.

He submitted applications for political asylum in many European nations. He received refugee credentials from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Belgium after being expelled from countries such as the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany for not having proper immigration documents.

He subsequently traveled to France and settled down in the 2F Terminal of the airport.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri
Mehran Karimi Nasseri Twitter

In 1988, Nasseri arrived at the Paris airport with a ticket to London but no identity papers. He claimed he had been stolen in a subway. Nasseri then traveled to England, but authorities returned him to Charles de Gaulle.

There, he lived off food coupons given to him by kind airport workers, dozed off on a bench outside the Paris Bye Bye departure terminal, and became the subject of French documentary films until he was given a fair trial.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri
Mehran Karimi Nasseri Twitter

He spent years in a legal gray area due to more inept bureaucracy and stricter immigration laws in Europe. Finally, when he received his immigration papers, Nasseri spoke of his amazement and anxiety as well as his insecurity to leave the airport.

He allegedly refused to sign them and remained there for several more years before being admitted to the hospital in 2006 and moving on to Paris shelter.

Over the years, France and Belgium both offered Nasseri residency, but he reportedly objected to being referred to as Iranian rather than British and demanded that they use his chosen name, Sir Alfred Mehran.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri
Mehran Karimi Nasseri Twitter

Those who made friends with him in the airport claimed that the years spent residing in the windowless area had a negative impact on his mental health.

DreamWorks reportedly paid him $250,000 for his story. In June 2004, he divulged to a Premiere magazine reporter "I have a better image now that the film is coming out. But my lifestyle is the same. I'm happy. This is my dream world."

In the film, 'The Terminal', Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a character who arrives at JFK airport in New York from the fictional Eastern European nation of Krakozhia to find that all of his travel documents have been rendered invalid by an overnight political change.

Viktor is thrown into the international lounge of the airport and instructed to remain there until his status is resolved, a process that takes time as the disturbance in Krakozhia persists.

A few weeks ago, Nasseri returned to the airport, where he resided until his passing, according to an airport representative. The officer stated that he was caught in possession of several thousand euros.