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Former CIA spy Tony Mendez, who smuggled six Americans out of Iran and was the inspiration for ‘Argo,’ dies at 78

Recently freed Americans held hostage by Iran disembark Freedom One, an Air Force VC-137 Stratoliner aircraft, upon their arrival at the base. (DoD photo by: PH2 DON KORALEWSKI/Date Shot: 27 Jan 1981)

Tony Mendez, the former CIA spy who heroically smuggled six Americans out of Iran in 1980, has died at the age of 78.

Mendez, who was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Oscar-winning movie “Argo,” had been fighting Parkinson’s Disease after being diagnosed 10 years ago. He passed away early Saturday “surrounded with love from his family.”

“The last thing he and his wife Jonna Mendez did was get their new book to the publisher and he died feeling he had completed writing the stories that he wanted to be told,” the family said in a statement.

The couple’s latest book, “The Moscow Rules,” will be available on May 21. Tony and Jonna Mendez, who often collaborated on book projects, had been married since 1991.

Tony Mendez was instrumental in the dramatic 1980 rescue after the Americans had taken refuge with a Canadian diplomat in Tehran. They had been able to flee the U.S. Embassy, where 52 American hostages were held for 444 days.

He routinely enlisted the help of makeup artists in his work, and a memoir written in 1999 was titled “The Master of Disguise.”

“Not a lot of people are aware that our disguise program was informed by some of the special effects people in L.A.,” Jonna Mendez previously told NPR.

Tony Mendez told CNN in an interview that he had a staff who “specialized in exfiltrations.”

“And we would be working on preparedness worldwide, prepared to handle the walk-in, for instance, that would knock on your door at midnight and say I want to defect,” he told CNN.

His Iran rescue inspired the 2012 film “Argo,” which won three Oscars, including one for Best Picture. Affleck, who took home a statue as a producer, tweeted Saturday that Mendez was a “true American hero.”

“He was a man of extraordinary grace, decency, humility and kindness,” Affleck wrote. “He never sought the spotlight for his actions, he merely sought to serve his country. I’m so proud to have worked for him and to have told one of his stories.

A private burial will be held in Nevada, the family said.


© 2019 New York Daily News

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