ASSOCIATED PRESS - MICHEL EULER | Mehran Karimi Nasseri in Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris in 2004.
ASSOCIATED PRESS - MICHEL EULER | Mehran Karimi Nasseri in Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris in 2004.

An Iranian whose irregular immigration status obliged him to spend nearly two decades in a Paris airport, inspiring a Steven Spielberg movie starring Tom Hanks, died on Saturday at the terminal.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri died of natural causes just before midday on Saturday in terminal 2F at Charles de Gaulle airport outside the French capital. He was 77 years old.

Unable to enter France legally and with nowhere else to go, Nasseri took up residence in the airport complex north of Paris in 1988.

Born in 1945 in Masjed Soleiman, in the Iranian province of Khuzestan, Karimi Nasseri took up residence in the airport in November 1988 after flying from Iran to London, Berlin and Amsterdam in an effort to locate his mother.

He had been expelled from every other country he landed in because he was unable to produce the correct paperwork.

At Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport an informal support network grew up around him, providing food and medical help along with books and a radio.

In 1999 he was granted refugee status and the right to remain in France.

Spielberg on the case

Karimi Nasseri's peculiar story came to the attention of Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, inspiring 2004 film "The Terminal," which starred Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Hanks played a man who becomes trapped at New York's JFK airport when his home country collapses into revolution.

After spending most of the money he received for the film, Karimi Nasseri returned to the airport a few weeks ago, the official said.

Several thousand euros were found on him.

Scared to leave 

"I'm not quite sure what I want to do, stay at Roissy or leave," he said after being granted the right to live in France. "I have papers, I can stay here, I think I should carefully study all the options before making a decision."

He didn't leave then.

"He no longer wants to leave the airport," his lawyer Christian Bourguet said at the time. "He's scared of going."

Text initially published on: RFI


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