Tony Mendez, the spy whose involvement in the Iran hostage crisis inspired Ben Affleck’s Argo, died Saturday after a longterm battle with Parkinson’s disease, a family statement shared by Mendez’s literary agent Christy Fletcher confirmed. He was 78.
“He was surrounded with love from his family and will be sorely missed,” the statement reads. “The last thing he and his 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.”
Both Tony and Jonna co-wrote The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War, which chronicles their time serving as CIA operative spying on Moscow during the Cold War in the 1970s. The book will be published on May 21.
The International Spy Museum confirmed the passing of its founding member in a tweet that read, “Tony’s legacy of fearless ingenuity lives on throughout the Museum & in our collection. He was an inspiration to us & we will miss him so dearly. Deepest condolences to Jonna & Mendez family.”
“I was honored to work with Tony Mendez for 20 years and his loving wife Jonna,” Fletcher added separately. “This is a crushing loss for his family, friends and our world. I will miss him very very much.”
A private burial for Mendez will be held in Nevada at the family graveyard.
Mendez’s part in the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis involving the rescue of six American diplomats was brought to the big screen in 2012’s Argo.
Iran militants stormed the U.S. Embassy and captured 66 people. Six managed to flee to the Canadian Embassy and were rescued when Mendez, in a classified mission that was finally declassified in 1997, had the diplomats pose as members of a Canadian film crew location-scouting for an upcoming science-fiction release called Argo.
Affleck, who was nominated for the Best Director Oscar in 2013, portrayed Mendez in the Best Picture winner.
“Tony Mendez was a true American hero,” Affleck wrote in a tweet. “He was a man of extraordinary grace, decency, humility and kindness. 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.”