The Iranian man who inspired the events behind Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film “The Terminal” died Saturday at the Paris airport where he lived for nearly 20 years, authorities said.
Mehran Karimi Nasseri died at Charles de Gaulle airport, his home for 18 years, of a heart attack in the airport’s Terminal 2F around midday, according to a Paris airport authority official.
Emergency services treated him at the scene but were unable to save him, an official said.
Nasseri’s life was the inspiration behind the American comedy, which stars Tom Hanks as Viktor Navorski, a man from the fictional Eastern European country of Krakozhia who is stranded and forced to live at JFK airport.
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The real person behind the fictional story lived in Terminal 1 of the Paris airport from 1988 to 2006, initially as a result of a botched deportation that turned into legal limbo.
He later stayed by apparent choice.
Over the years, Nasseri became something of a celebrity, sleeping on a red plastic bench, befriending airport workers, showering in the staff quarters and reading magazines.
“Eventually, I’ll leave the airport,” he told The Associated Press in 1999. “But I’m still waiting for a passport or a transit visa.”
Born in 1945 in Soleiman, Nasseri left Iran to study in England in 1974. He was jailed when he returned home, he said, for protesting against the shah.
He was subsequently expelled without a passport.
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His legal troubles escalated when he applied for and was granted asylum by UNHCR in Belgium, but said his refugee certificate was stolen at a Paris train station.
Nasseri was then arrested by French police and faced deportation, but lacked official documents.
He was then sent to Charles de Gaulle in August 1988, where he remained.
European immigration laws became stricter over the years preventing any salvation of their legal status. But he finally received his refugee papers.
When faced with the reality that he might have to leave the airport that he had come to enjoy as his new home, he allegedly refused to sign them.
Nasseri was hospitalized in 2006 and later moved to a Paris shelter.
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In the weeks before his death, Nasseri had returned to live at Charles de Gaulle, the airport official said.
Its story loosely inspired Spielberg, as well as a French film, “Lost in Transit,” and an opera called “Flight.”
Associated Press contributed to this report.