Tony Mendez, The CIA Spy Who Inspired ‘Argo,’ Dies At 79

January 21, 2019, 1:48 PM UTC

Tony Mendez, the CIA agent whose rescue of six Americans from Iran was turned into the movie “Argo,” has died aged 79.

The former spy had suffered from Parkinson’s disease, his family said. He and his wife, Jonna Mendez, had recently finished a book about their time working for the CIA in the USSR, The Moscow Rules, which will be released this May.

The story of his daredevil rescue operation in Tehran called “the Canadian Caper” was classified for nearly two decades. In 2007, Wired magazine published an article about the plot, which was later turned into a book. This was then itself loosely adapted into the 2012 movie “Argo,” which won three Academy Awards including Best Picture. Director Ben Affleck remembered Mendez in this tweet:

Born in 1940, Mendez joined the CIA in 1965 after answering a job ad for a graphic artist. In his 25-year career, he became a specialist in creating disguises and “exfiltration,” the art of quietly slipping people out of a country where they are endangered. He served in multiple foreign posts, mostly in Asia.

In 1980 he orchestrated a daring rescue of six American diplomats out of Iran with the help of the Canadian ambassador. After protesters took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979, the six took refuge in the Canadian embassy for nearly three months.

Mendez helped them pose as a Canadian film crew scouting locations in Iran for a nonexistent sci-fi movie called “Argo.” With his help, the group was able to evade Iranian security services and board a flight to Zurich from Tehran. The 52 American hostages in the U.S. Embassy weren’t released until January 1981.