Man Who Inspired Steven Spielberg's The Terminal Dies At The Airport Where He Lived

Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the Iranian man whose life story inspired Steven Spielberg's film "The Terminal," died Saturday at the airport he had previously called home, according to NBC News. Nasseri, who was also known as Sir Alfred Mehran, lived in Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris for eighteen years before leaving in 2006, and reportedly had taken up residence there again in the weeks before his passing.

Nasseri's story is a complex and ambiguous one, though by all accounts, he began his airport residency in 1988 when a lack of residency papers — for both the country he was trying to leave, and the one he was trying to enter — landed him in a sort of legal purgatory. Eventually the paperwork issues were ironed out, but Nasseri chose to continue living at the airport. As of publication time, there doesn't seem to be a clear reason for his recent return, but NBC reports that the septuagenarian former refugee died of a heart attack in the airport's Terminal 2F on November 12, 2022.

The film didn't capture his true story

There was a lot about Nasseri's life that wasn't clear, and journalists attempted to capture his reality to varying results over the years. In 2004, Spielberg's film "The Terminal" obviously borrowed from and whitewashed Nasseri's story by casting Tom Hanks as a man from a fictional country called Krakozhia, who lives at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport. "The Terminal" was neither among Spielberg's most successful nor his most acclaimed films, and it failed to engage with the heavier elements of Nasseri's life, instead crafting a lighthearted rom-com-like story.

The details of Nasseri's own story were sometimes tough to crack, though many, including filmmaker Paul Berczeller, tried. In a Guardian profile published in 2004, Berczeller describes the time he spent shooting a film called "Here To Now" with Nasseri in the airport, and the facts he learned about the man in the process. While Nasseri claimed that he had been subject to torture by the Iranian ministry of security, his brother Cyrus told Berczeller that Nasseri's displacement could be traced back to his involvement in a student strike at Tehran University in 1970. Berczeller also reported that Nasseri was given a check of several hundred thousand dollars for his life story, but remained in the airport even after acquiring the means to leave.

Regardless of his origins and motivations, Nasseri apparently lived a life of dignity, intention, and well-worn habit in his airport home during his initial stay of nearly two decades. "He lived in the basement shopping mall of Terminal 1," Berczeller wrote. "Alfred's red bench was the only anchor in his life. It was his bed, living room and corporate headquarters." Nasseri was thought to be approximately 76 years old at the time of his passing.