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Thursday, December 8, 2016

OTTAWA (Reuters) — Former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, whose role in rescuing U.S. diplomats in a covert operation in 1979 during the Iran hostage crisis was featured in the movie Argo, died on Thursday, his son told CBC television. He was 81.

Taylor was Canada’s envoy in Tehran in November 1979 when students stormed the U.S. embassy, taking dozens of Americans hostage. In the chaos six diplomats escaped and took refuge with Taylor and another Canadian official for more than two months.

In what became known unofficially as “The Canadian Caper”, Canada and the United States conspired to smuggle the six out of Tehran on genuine Canadian passports with forged Iranian visas.

The group, pretending to be a Hollywood crew who had been scouting locations for a science fiction movie called “Argo,” successfully caught a plane to Switzerland in January 1980.

The story of the escape was retold in the 2012 movie “Argo” featuring actor Ben Affleck in the role of real-life Central Intelligence Agency operative Tony Mendez, who helped concoct the cover story and provide disguises for the diplomats.

Taylor, who was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the U.S. Congress in 1980, criticized the movie for minimizing Canada’s role in the Americans’ rescue.

He later left the Canadian foreign service and became a businessman.

Taylor endangered his own life to help the Americans. “Taylor valiantly risked his own life by shielding a group of American diplomats from capture. (He) represented the very best that Canada’s foreign service has to offer,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

Photo: Former Canadian ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor and actress Elena Semikina arrive at the 2015 Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto, March 1, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch