The man who inspired Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal, as well as a French film and an opera, has died in the airport where he lived for 18 years.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri suffered a heart attack in Terminal 2F of the Charles de Gaulle airport on Saturday and died after police and a medical team were unable to save him, according to an official with the Paris airport.

Mr Nasseri, believed to have been born in 1945 in Soleiman, the then-British controlled area of Iran, lived in Terminal 1 between 1988 and 2006, at first while he was in a legal limbo because he was without residency papers and later by choice.

The airport official said the 76-year-old had been living in the airport again in recent weeks.

His first stint at the airport, when he spent years sleeping on a red plastic bench, making friends with airport workers, showering in staff facilities and spending time writing in his diary, studying economics and watching passing travellers inspired The Terminal starring Tom Hanks, as well as French film Lost in Transit and the opera Flight.

Mr Nasseri published his autobiography, The Terminal Man, the same year The Terminal was made.

Mehran Karimi Nessari lived in the Charles de Gaulle airport for 18 years, with his belongings surrounding a red plastic bench he slept on. Image: Getty Images

After leaving Iran to study in England in 1974, he was reportedly imprisoned on his return for protesting against the shah while abroad and was exiled soon after.

He applied for political asylum in several European countries and was given refugee credentials by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Belgium in 1981, but was later denied entry into England after the briefcase containing his documents was stolen at a Paris train station.

Although he was arrested by French police after being sent back to Charles de Gaulle from England, he couldn’t be deported because he had no official documents and stayed.

After lengthy legal campaigning, more bureaucratic bungling and increasingly strict European immigration laws kept him in a legal no-man’s land for years, Mr Nasseri was offered French and Belgian residency, but he refused to sign the papers as they listed him as Iranian and didn’t show his preferred name, Sir Alfred Mehran.

He stayed at the airport for several more years before being admitted to hospital in 2006 and he later lived in a French shelter.

Those at the airport who befriended him said Mr Nasseri’s years of living there had taken a toll on his mental health, while the airport doctor described him as “fossilised here” in 1990.

One friend, a ticket agent, compared him to a prisoner incapable of “living on the outside”.

“Eventually, I will leave the airport,” Mr Nasseri told the Associated Press in 1999, looking frail with thin hair, hollow cheeks and sunken eyes.

“But I am still waiting for a passport or transit visa.”

Image: Getty Images

This article first appeared on OverSixty.