Immigrant Who Inspired Tom Hanks' The Terminal Has Died In Airport

Tom Hanks has played many memorable roles. From playing Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in Clint Eastwood’s Sully to Fred Rogers (who Hanks ended up being related to) in Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood, the actor tends to take on parts based on real people. What is Perhaps one of Hanks' most underrated films that's loosely based on reality is the 2004 comedy-drama The Terminal. The overlooked Steven Spielberg-directed movie is one you don’t hear many people talking about these days, but it is better than many might think or remember. It's lightly based on a real-life Iranian immigrant, Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who had been living in a Paris airport terminal for 18 years. Unfortunately, it's been reported that Nasseri has died.

According to AP News, Nasseri suffered a heart attack on November 12 and passed away in the Charles de Gaulle Airport, which he called home for almost two decades. Nasseri resided in Terminal 1 of the airport from 1988 to 2006 out of legal need. Still, after receiving immigration papers (which he reportedly refused to sign), he resided in a Paris shelter before returning to the airport. The man eventually became a bit of a local celebrity, even receiving the nickname of Lord Alfred from the establishment's staff and was quick to meet with and shake the hands of travelers making their way through the facility. During an interview with the outlet in 1999, the man said he planned to leave the the location at some point. He said:

Eventually, I will leave the airport… But I am still waiting for a passport or transit visa.

The film that loosely depicts him sees Hanks as an Eastern European man stuck in an airport terminal after being denied entry to the United States, leaving him unable to return home because his country is dissolved following a military coup. The plot might sound a bit far-fetched, but Nasseri's actual story is even more eventful.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri was born in 1945 in Soleiman, a part of Iran, then under British jurisdiction. He left Iran to further his studies but, upon returning to his home country, he discovered he was arrested for participating in a protest against the shah and was expelled without a passport. Nasseri’s life after that was wrapped up in unbelievable bureaucracy and red tape until he found himself living in the Paris airport terminal. He was arrested by French police at one point but could not be deported because he didn’t have the proper legal documentation.

While The Terminal feels like a true story, it’s important to note, like many Tom Hanks films, it is not. Though loosely inspired by Nasseri’s real-life saga, the only fundamental similarity between Hanks’ portrayal of Viktor Navorski and the real-life man is the fact that they both lived in an airport terminal. That’s where the similarities between the two end. Also, while the filmmakers allegedly paid Nasseri for his story, he was not involved, was not credited, and does not appear in the motion picture.

The Terminal might not be considered one of Hanks’ greatest films, but it’s still delightful and worth watching simply for the actor’s charming portrayal of Navorski. Those interested in finding out where to watch this Hanks and Spielberg team-up could read up on that. In terms of honoring, Nasseri, you can also do a bit of additional digging into his legacy. 

We here at CinemaBlend also send our deepest condolences to survivors, friends, family, or anyone whose life was touched by Mehran Karimi Nasseri.

Ryan graduated from Missouri State University with a BA in English/Creative Writing.