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The man who inspired "The Terminal" died at the airport where he lived for 18 years

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

He may have been the world's most famous homeless person. Mehran Karimi Nasseri was an Iranian national who lived at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years. He died over the weekend at the age of 77. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has his story.

(SOUNDBITE OF LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF DOVE'S "FLIGHT, ACT III: A PLANE IS COMING!")

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: For a man who never reached his final destination, he inspired a lot of art - an opera, a book and two movies, including Steven Spielberg's 2004 film "The Terminal," starring Tom Hanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE TERMINAL")

CATHERINE ZETA-JONES: (As Amelia Warren) Are you headed for home?

TOM HANKS: (As Viktor Navorski) No, I am delayed a long time.

CHANTAL KREVIAZUK: (Singing) 'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane.

BEARDSLEY: But the real life of Mehran Karimi Nasseri was not as happy as the Hollywood version. Nasseri was born in 1945 from a brief liaison between an Iranian father and a British mother who never acknowledged him. At the age of 43, he left for Britain to try to find her. But after Iranian officials stripped him of his passport and he had no other identity papers, he was unable to stay in Britain. He was expelled from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, too. But in 1988, France allowed Nasseri to stay as long as he remained in the airport. Here he is speaking in 1999.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEHRAN KARIMI NASSERI: I think nobody can live 11 years in such a situation. I am unique immigration case.

BEARDSLEY: Nasseri became a well-known figure. Airport workers fondly called him Sir Alfred. Surrounded by his possessions on an airport couch, he did interviews with the media and received mail from passengers hoping to meet him on a layover. He was treated by airport doctor Philippe Bargain.

PHILIPPE BARGAIN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Very quickly, he had a network of people around him who liked him and helped him," said Bargain. He was the first citizen of Charles de Gaulle Airport. Despite eventually getting refugee status in France, Nasseri never wanted to leave the airport. He was finally forced to in 2006 to be hospitalized. He lived on the outside for several years in a hostel. But in September, Nasseri returned to live at Charles de Gaulle Airport one final time. He was found dead Saturday in Terminal 2F. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAD CROUCH'S "GENTLE MACHINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.