Tony Mendez, the the CIA officer played by Ben Affleck in 2012’s Argo that won the Best Picture Oscar, has died due to complications from Parkinson’s disease in an assisted-living center in Maryland. He was 78.
The news was confirmed by a family statement provided Saturday by his literary manager Christy Fletcher.
“Earlier this morning, Antonio (Tony) J. Mendez finally succumbed to the Parkinson’s Disease that he had been diagnosed with ten+ years ago,” the statement read. “He was surrounded with love from his family and will be sorely missed.”
The statement also said “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.” That book, The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics that Helped America Win the Cold War, is due to be published in May.
Mendez, a longtime undercover operative, was awarded the Intelligence Star for Valor in 1980 for spearheading rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis. The operation involved creating an faux Hollywood film production company in a ruse to suggest the hostages were Canadians scouting locations for a sci-fi film. After some real-life drama the plan worked, but the mission, now known as “the Canadian Caper,” wasn’t declassified until the late 1990s.
Affleck directed Argo and played Mendez. The film scored seven Oscar noms and won three including the marquee Best Picture and for Chris Terrio’s script, which was adopted partly from Mendez’s book The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA.
Mendez, also a painter, penned several books with his wife Jonna, also a former CIA intelligence officer. They also co-wrote the Soviet Cold War memoir Spy Dust published in 2002.
Fletcher said there will be a private burial for Mendez in his native Nevada.