Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the Iranian refugee who inspired the Tom Hanks hit The Terminal, died last week in his beloved airport. He was 77 years old.
Mehran Karimi Nasseri
Mehran Karimi Nasseri, also called Sir Alfred Mehran, was born on Iran’s Anglo-Persian Oil Company settlement in 1945. His father was a doctor for the company and his mother — supposedly — was a nurse with European heritage.
The details of Nasseri’s heritage and history, as provided by the man himself, was often impossible to prove. As Nasseri told it, he was expelled from Iran in 1977 for protesting the Shag and was awarded refugee status by the United Nations. This allowed him to travel between England and France but in 1988, when his papers were lost — Nasseri says they were stolen — he was unable to complete the trip. Nasseri was then detained at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in France.
Which is where the unusual story begins.
A seemingly lost soul, Nasseri took up residence in Terminal 1 of the airport… and stayed for 18 years. Day to day, you could find him sitting around the area: relaxing, journaling, smoking his gold pipe and enjoying Mcdonald’s. He often appeared in deep thought and, always, kept his luggage close by. He slept each night on a favorite red bench. Airport workers kept an eye out for the unusual drifter and visitors bought him his food. Over the year, Nasseri became something a local celebrity.
As his story picked up steam, France offered Nasseri a residency permit in 1999. But he chose to remain at the airport, living there until 2006. At that point, Nasseri left Charles de Gaulle — but not forever.
He struggled to adapt to life outside the terminal. As a spokesperson from the airport explained, “The reality is that [Nasserri] had psychological problems. He was a homeless person who was taken care of by the airport community and doctors.”
In the end, Nasseri made a final pilgrimage back to the Charles de Gaulle in September of 2022. Having left a care home, he settled down in the public area Terminal 2F and lived out his final days.
Nasseri died there on November 12, 2022, of a heart attack.
In 1993, Mehran Karimi Nasseri’s story inspired the French comedy Lost in Transit. But in 2004, it received the real Hollywood treatment: the Steven Spielberg-Tom Hanks treatment.
In The Terminal, an admittedly loose adaptation, Tom Hanks stars as Viktor Navorski, a man from the fictional Krakozhia who arrives at New York’s JFK airport to find that a sudden coup d’état in his homeland has left him a citizen of nowhere.
Like Nasseri, he adapts quickly to life at the airport, befriending TSA guards and janitors, alike. Along the way, he strikes up a romance with a friendly flight attendant, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Stanley Tucci also co-stars as the Acting Field Commissioner ruthlessly determined to get Viktor out of the airport.
It’s all silly, sweet fun — a decidedly sunnier take on the real-life story of Sir Alfred. Though The Terminal opened to mixed reviews, under Steven Spielberg’s direction, it was a dependable hit, earning more than $200 million at the box office. The film also immortalized the strange life of France’s most famous homeless person (or, airport resident).