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CIA's Disguise Maestro Tony Mendez Whose Iran Caper Inspired 'Argo', Dies

Former CIA agent Tony Mendez, 78, who engineered a creative way to smuggle US hostages out of Iran in 1980 and was immortalised in the Hollywood film “Argo,” died of complications from Parkinson's Disease. Tony, who had been suffering from the debilitating disease for the past 10 years had a private burial in Nevada. When Iranian revolutionaries seized the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, a handful of diplomats managed to escape through a back door and took refuge at the Canadian embassy. The specialist in covert operations and CIA's chief of disguise, came up with an original plan to rescue them: set up the production in Hollywood of a faux science fiction movie titled “Argo” - which won three Oscars in 2013 including for best motion picture - travel to Iran to scout out locations, then return to the US with the hostages masquerading as the film crew. The purported science-fiction film project “Argo,” was a sly nod to the mythological ship that Jason used to retrieve the Golden Fleece. The six “houseguests,” as the diplomats were euphemestically called, armed with fake Canadian passports, slipped out of Iran and to safety on January 27, 1980. Fifty-two other hostages weren't as lucky, and were held hostage by the Iranian revolutionaries for 444 days. He had done stints in Laos, India and the Soviet Union, when the Iran crisis erupted. The “Canadian caper” is extensively recorderded in his 199 memoir - “The master of disguise.” His latest book, co-authored with his second wife Jonna Hiestand - a CIA expert on clandestine photography - due in May is titled “The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War.” Antonio Joseph Mendez was born in Eureka, Nev., on Nov. 15, 1940, to a mixed-heritage family {Italian, Mexican, Welsh} that he later credited with helping him blend in around the world. He was 3 when his father died in a copper-mining accident; his mother worked several jobs. Unable to afford the fees, he quit Colorado varsity after one year. He was working as an illustrator at Martin Marietta, drawing parts for an intercontinental ballistic missile, when he saw a help-wanted ad in a newspaper: “Artists to Work Overseas — US Navy Civilians.” He attended the interview, was recruited by CIA, and the rest is espionage legend. Testimony to that lore is how he once transformed a black agent and an Asian diplomat into a pair of white business executives, using masks that gave them an uncanny resemblance to film stars Victor Mature and Rex Harrison.