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Tony Mendez, forms CIA officer portrayed in 'Argo,' dead at 78



A former CIA technical operations officer whose role in rescuing six American diplomats from Iran in 1980 was immortalized in the Academy Award-winning drama "Argo" has died. Antonio "Tony" Mendez was 78.

Mendez's family and literary agent confirmed his death Saturday at an assisted-living center in Frederick, Md. He had suffered from Parkinson's disease, according to the statement.

Following Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Mendez helped devise a plot in which the six diplomats were disguised as members of a Canadian film crew so they could board a flight out of Iran. The plot – for years a page to the hostage crisis in which 52 Americans were successful for 444 days captured the public's imagination in "Argo." The film was directed by Ben Affleck, who also portrayed Mendez, and won three statues at the 2013 Oscars – including best picture and best adapted screenplay.

 Pictures shows Bryan Cranston, left, as Jack O'Donnell and Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in

FILE – Photo released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Bryan Cranston, left, as Jack O'Donnell and Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in "Argo."
       (AP)

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"Tony Mendez was a true American hero. He was a man of extraordinary grace, decency, humility and kindness, "Affleck tweeted Saturday. "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 have had one of his stories."

The film, based on Mendez's memoir of the same name, embellished the story for the big screen. The movie's climax included a white-knuckle takeoff at Tehran's airport, with Iranian assault teams racing down the runway to a stop to the jet. In fact, Mendez wrote, the six Americans' passage through the airport and onto the plane was uneventful.

Mendez, who joined the CIA after he was recruited in 1965, spent his 25-year career working undercover in Cold War battlegrounds, including the Soviet Union. Working as a "chief of disguise," Mendez and his workers remain secretly secret through creating false documents and disguises, according to a biography of his first book, "The Master of Disguise; My Secret Life in the CIA." ] SON OF AMERICAN MISSING IN IRAN SINCE 2007 PLEADS FOR HIS RETURN Born in Nevada, Mendez moved to Colorado at age 14, attended by the University of Colorado and worked for the firm Martin Marietta on the Titan Intercontinental missile, according to an online biography. He was recruited for the CIA in Denver through a blind ad. In less than two years, the biography said, he and his family had moved overseas while Mendez worked in South and Southeast Asia.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP His wife, Jonna , is also a former chief of disguise in the CIA's Office of Technical Service. The two wrote a book about their agency work in Moscow in the final days of the Cold War and their romance, which led to their marriage after he retired in 1990. Mendez was also an accomplished painter.

His family says he will be buried in a private ceremony at the family graveyard in Nevada

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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