Merhan Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian man who lived for 18 years in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport and inspired the Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks film The Terminal, died Saturday at the airport, officials said. He was believed to be 80 years old.
Nasseri died from a heart attack in the airport’s Terminal 2F around midday, officials said. A medical team and police treated him, but were unable to save him.
Nasseri lived in the airport’s Terminal 1 from 1988 until 2006. He was in legal limbo at first because he lacked residency papers, but later stayed on at the airport by choice. He had been living in the airport again in recent weeks, officials said.
His saga inspired The Terminal, a 2004 film starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Stanley Tucci.
The film changed the real-life events into the story of an Eastern European man who is stuck in New York‘s JFK Airport when he is denied entry to the United States. In the film, a military coup in his home country prevents the man from returning home. It did $219 million worldwide at the box office.
Nasseri’s story was more complicated. He was flying from Brussels to London via Paris. But he lost his refugee passport and was denied entry to France. Thus, he took up residence in the transit area of Terminal 1 at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport.
He stayed there until July 2006, when he was hospitalized, and upon recovery was transferred among various charity shelters. The AP reported he had recently resumed living at the airport. It was unclear whether he had a source of income.