×

Tony Mendez, Former CIA Officer Depicted in ‘Argo,’ Dies at 78

Tony Mendez, the former CIA technical operations officer who orchestrated the 1980 rescue of six American diplomats from Iran and who was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Academy Award winning film “Argo,” has died. He was 78.

Mendez’s book agent, Christy Fletcher, announced the news on Twitter Saturday morning.

“Early this morning, Antonio (Tony) J. Mendez finally succumbed to the Parkinson’s Disease that he had been diagnosed with ten+ years ago,” the statement reads. “He was surrounded with love from his family and will be sorely missed. The last thing he and his wife Jonna Mendez did was get their new book to the publisher and he died feeling he had completd writing the stories that he wanted to be told.”

The message states Mendez will be buried in a private ceremony at the family graveyard in Nevada.

Born on Nov. 15 1940, Mendez began his career as an artist after studying art at the University of Colorado. He was hired by the CIA after answering a blind advertisement for a graphic artist in 1965 and became an espionage artist for the technical services division.

After working in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia, Mendez was sent to Iran to manage what became known as the “Canadian Caper,” in which he created the plan to pass off six American diplomats as a Canadian film crew to get them out of the country.

Mendez is the author of three memoirs, including “Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA”; “Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations that Helped Win the Cold War” with his wife Jonna, who is a 27-year veteran of the CIA; and “Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History,” upon which “Argo” is based.

“Argo,” loosely adapted for film and directed by Ben Affleck, won three Oscars at the 2013 Academy Awards, including best picture, best adapted screenplay, and best film editing. It was nominated for four more, including best performance by an actor in a supporting role for Alan Arkin, best original score, best sound mixing, and best sound editing. It also won Affleck the best director Golden Globe and the best motion picture – drama Globe.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Jon Favreau'The Lion King' film premiere,

    Jon Favreau 'Holding Out Hope' for Spider-Man to Remain in the MCU

    Spider-Man’s potential exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe could throw a wrench in Happy and Aunt May’s relationship, but Jon Favreau is “optimistic” the love affair will continue amid Sony’s dispute with Disney. “You never know what’s going to happen. I’m holding out hope and being optimistic that this isn’t the final chapter of the [...]

  • Cara Delevingne'Carnival Row' TV show premiere,

    Cara Delevingne Talks Immigration, Taylor Swift's Battle With Scooter Braun

    Cara Delevingne, whose faerie character in “Carnival Row” finds herself washed ashore as a refugee in a foreign land, said she was immediately drawn by the show’s fantastical take on issues of immigration and assimilation. “It’s a cause that I have been involved in for a long time,” Delevingne told Variety at the premiere of [...]

  • John Travolta, Fred Durst. John Travolta,

    John Travolta Recalls Fans Breaking Into His House: 'I Was Scared the First Time'

    Nobody can accuse John Travolta of not being gracious to his fans, whether it’s an autograph, a selfie or, you know, a home invasion or two. “I’ve only had two people that actually invaded my house,” Travolta told Variety at the premiere of “The Fanatic” at the Egyptian Theater on Thursday night. “They were just [...]

  • Romulus TV Show Italy

    Behind the Italian Scenes on Upcoming TV Blockbuster 'Romulus'

    On a hilly patch of greenery outside Rome, a group of extras is milling about in a meticulously reconstructed eighth century B.C. village wearing leather sandals, coarse red tunics and baseball caps. It’s scorching. The set is on a vast backlot on the grounds of the Cinecittà World theme park where during a period of [...]

  • James Wan's Horror Pic Adds George

    James Wan Finds Male Lead for His Next Horror Movie (EXCLUSIVE)

    British actor George Young has landed the male lead role opposite Annabelle Wallis in James Wan’s top secret horror pic, sources tell Variety. Wan is tackling the movie, tentatively titled “Silvercup,” this fall before beginning preparations for DC’s “Aquaman” sequel with Jason Momoa at the top of 2020. Plot details are currently being kept under [...]

  • Catch-22 Cinecitta BTS

    Rome's Cinecitta Makes Major Upgrades to Soundstages, Backlot

    Italy has always been attractive as a location, and now that increased global TV and film production is filling up soundstages around Europe, Rome’s Cinecittà is gunning to regain its global status as a top studio. The fabled facility, located on 99 acres of public land, had lost some of the luster of its 1950s [...]

  • Francis Ford Coppola Apocalypse Now BTS

    Why Everything About 'Apocalypse Now's' Production Was Unorthodox

    Lionsgate and American Zoetrope are releasing “Apocalypse Now Final Cut,” the third version of Francis Coppola’s 1979 war epic, to commemorate the film’s 40th anniversary. While multiple versions of any mainstream movie are unusual, everything about this movie was unorthodox. On Oct. 14, 1969, Variety reported that Warner Bros. bought the script by John Milius, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content