Iranian Who Inspired “The Terminal” Dies At Paris Airport

Iranian Who Inspired “The Terminal” Dies At Paris Airport

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The most famous airport resident in the world passed away yesterday.

Exiled Iranian man living at Paris Airport dies of heart attack

Midday on Saturday, November 12, 2022, 76-year-old Merhan Karimi Nasseri died of a heart attack in Terminal 2F at Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). Police and medical personnel treated him and tried to save him, but weren’t successful.

For context, Nasseri was originally from Iran, and lived at Charles de Gaulle Airport full-time for 18 years, from 1988 until 2006. The facts surrounding his initial reason for living at the airport are disputed, though:

  • Nasseri claimed he was expelled from Iran in 1977 for protests against the Shah, and he claims he was awarded refugee status in Belgium; however, this was disputed, and an investigation found that he was never expelled from Iran
  • Nasseri had a British mother, and decided to settle with her in 1988, but claimed that his papers were lost when his briefcase was stolen; an investigation revealed that he lied about this, and actually mailed his documents to Brussels while onboard a ferry to Britain

When Nasseri arrived in Britain in 1988, he was sent back to France for not having proper entry documents. He was initially arrested in France, but then released, as his entry to the airport was legal, and he had no country of origin to return to, which is why he started living at the airport.

He eventually became a bit of a celebrity at the airport, and staff referred to him as “Lord Alfred.” He had a red plastic bench surrounded by boxes of newspapers and magazines where he slept, and he was allowed to shower in staff facilities. He spent his time writing, reading, studying economics, and surveying passing travelers.

While efforts were made to allow Nasseri to leave, he ended up rejecting most opportunities:

  • Attempts were made to have new documents issued in Belgium, but he would need to present himself in person, and he didn’t want to do this, as he wanted to go to the UK as originally planned
  • Both France and Belgium offered Nasseri residency, but he refused to sign the papers, as they listed him as being Iranian (rather than British), and did not show his preferred name of “Sir Alfred Mehran”

He ended up leaving the airport in 2006 when he was hospitalized. He had apparently been living in various areas near Paris for the past 15 or so years, but in the past several weeks allegedly returned to living at the airport, as that’s where he was most comfortable.

“The Terminal” movie was loosely based on this

Many probably remember the 2004 Steven Spielberg film “The Terminal,” starring Tom Hanks. Spielberg had purchased the rights to Nasseri’s story for $250,000. While Nasseri’s exact story wasn’t used, the film was loosely based on it.

In “The Terminal,” Tom Hanks plays the role of Viktor Navorski, from the fictional country of Krakozhia. He arrived at New York JFK Airport, only to find out that there was a coup back home, and that the United States didn’t recognize the new government of Krakozhia. Therefore Navorski wasn’t allowed to enter the United States or return home, because his passport was no longer considered valid.

Admittedly this isn’t something that the average person would catch onto, but the plot of that was highly unrealistic, since the United States doesn’t have “sterile” international transit areas, unlike in other countries. If you’re in a departures terminal in the United States then you’re fully in the United States, and can also leave the airport. That’s different than in Europe, where the non-Schengen areas are indeed “sterile,” for those purposes.

Bottom line

The world’s most famous airport resident died yesterday of a heart attack at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. Merhan Karimi Nasseri has an incredible story, and lived quite a fascinating life. It seems like on some level he lived the life he wanted to, as he chose to continue living at the airport even when he had the option to leave. Still, there’s something about this story that’s obviously very sad. May he rest in peace.

What do you make of this story?

Conversations (15)
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  1. Tortuga Diamond

    People like Lord Alfred make the world a more interesting place. I'm glad that he graced us with his presence.

    1. Peter Guest

      Awesome tribute to Sir Alfred

  2. Jo Guest

    Whoa. Fascinating. RIP. For those judging him, if you've seen Shawshank Redemption, there is a guy who doesn't want to leave the Shawshank.

  3. Eskimo Guest

    Isn't it the lord's miracle to send him home(CDG) to live out his final days?

    There must exist a greater power.

  4. iamhere Guest

    Unclear why they could not send him back to Iran. Also many airports these days don't allow people to stay overnight. This also questions what he lived on, financially.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      Spielberg paid him $250k, and given his location, all tax free.
      A Priority Pass costs $400 annually.
      That should get him lounge access for his life.

    2. KL Guest

      And NYT said that people would send him money and bring him things.

    3. Stefan Guest

      He didn't have his passport anymore and even if he claimed that he was persecuted by the regimes security services so that's a refugee claim right there. Nobody was deported back to Iran in those days. Even today it's extremely rare. There aren't any questions as his case has been widely reported for decades, he got donations of food, clothing and money as well as medical care. All international airports in Europe have a sterile transit zone until this day.

  5. Icarus Guest

    For context “ Lord Alfred” lived in terminal 1 until 2006, after which he had been taken care of by a charity, had been hospitalised and lived in a shelter.

    He had been granted refugee status in 1981 by Belgium and tried to go to the U.K. to find his parents who he believed lived there, but had thrown away all his documents and was refused entry.

    Clearly his mental health was very...

    For context “ Lord Alfred” lived in terminal 1 until 2006, after which he had been taken care of by a charity, had been hospitalised and lived in a shelter.

    He had been granted refugee status in 1981 by Belgium and tried to go to the U.K. to find his parents who he believed lived there, but had thrown away all his documents and was refused entry.

    Clearly his mental health was very badly affected. He then went back to the airport recently where he died.

    I had also seen him a few times.

    There are also cases of other travellers in limbo.

  6. TravelinWilly Diamond

    It sounds like he had some serious mental health issues that plagued him, which makes his story sad more than anything else.

    Calling him names and judging him is a very American thing to do. His is a case that calls more for empathy rather than insults.

    RIP, Mr. Merhan Karimi Nasseri.

    1. Rotuma Diamond

      “judging him is a very American thing to do.” You’re very judgmental.

  7. John T Guest

    He sounds like a nutjob preferring to live in an airport than have his real name on his visa.
    What did he eat for all that time in the airport?

    1. Never In Doubt Guest

      “ What did he eat for all that time in the airport?”

      Food served at the airport?

    2. TravelinWilly Diamond

      @Never In Doubt

      Airport staff fed and took care of him, along with periodic help from the Red Cross.

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Icarus Guest

For context “ Lord Alfred” lived in terminal 1 until 2006, after which he had been taken care of by a charity, had been hospitalised and lived in a shelter. He had been granted refugee status in 1981 by Belgium and tried to go to the U.K. to find his parents who he believed lived there, but had thrown away all his documents and was refused entry. Clearly his mental health was very badly affected. He then went back to the airport recently where he died. I had also seen him a few times. There are also cases of other travellers in limbo.

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TravelinWilly Diamond

@Never In Doubt Airport staff fed and took care of him, along with periodic help from the Red Cross.

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TravelinWilly Diamond

It sounds like he had some serious mental health issues that plagued him, which makes his story sad more than anything else. Calling him names and judging him is a very American thing to do. His is a case that calls more for empathy rather than insults. RIP, Mr. Merhan Karimi Nasseri.

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