A man born in rural Nevada who went on to rescue six U.S. diplomats trapped in Iran under the ruse he was making a Hollywood movie – inspiring the 2012 movie “Argo” – died Saturday in Maryland.
Antonio “Tony” Mendez was 78.
Mendez worked for the Central Intelligence Agency during the Iranian crisis of 1979 to 1981 when he came up the plan to rescue diplomats who evaded the initial roundup when radicals overthrew the government by having them pose as Canadian film crew members.
Mendez was born in Eureka on Nov. 15, 1940. He was 3 years old when his father father was killed in a copper mining accident near Ruth, Nevada.
His mother remarried and the family moved in 1947 to live and work for just over a year at a quarry near what is now the east end of Saloman Circle near Sparks. The major highway in the area was called U.S. 40 and Mendez and his family crossed it when they walked to the Truckee River to bathe and wash clothes. They also had no indoor plumbing so boulder slide near what is now Vista Boulevard became the family’s latrine.
It prepared him 20 years later for life for brutal living conditions in Southeast Asia, he said in his autobiography, “The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA.”
It was while living in Sparks that Mendez began drawing. That led to his graphic arts career that was his entry point into the CIA.
The family moved to Lincoln County in Nevada in 1948 and then to Colorado when he was 14. It was while in Colorado that Mendez, working as a graphic artist, answered a cryptic job advertisement in the newspaper for a job interview at a motel and what ended up being a job with the CIA in 1965.
He initially specialized in document forgery and expanded into disguises before rising up the ladder of the CIA, retiring in 1990 at what was the equivalent rank of a two-star general.
The Associated Press reported he will be buried at a family graveyard in Nevada.
Mendez died Saturday at an assisted-living center in Frederick, Maryland, The Associated Press reported. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease.
Ben Affleck portrayed Mendez in “Argo,” which won the best picture Oscar in 2013.
“Tony Mendez was a true American hero,” Affleck posted on Twitter. “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.”