Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press / AP Photo

Ken Taylor, Canadian envoy who hid Americans in Tehran, dies

Ken Taylor helped rescue US diplomats in 1979 during the Iran hostage crisis, depicted in the movie ‘Argo’

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. Six diplomats escaped in the chaos 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 criticized the movie for minimizing Canada's role in the Americans' rescue.

Taylor was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the U.S. Congress in 1980 and then U.S. President Ronald Reagan paid tribute to Taylor at the White House. He was appointed Canada's consul general in New York and received a key to the city.

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

Many paid tribute to Taylor on Thursday.

"Ambassador Taylor's actions during the Iran hostage crisis were unquestionably heroic," said Peter Boogaard, a White House National Security Council spokesman.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was sad to learn of the news.

"As Canada's Ambassador to Iran during the Iranian Revolution, Taylor valiantly risked his own life by shielding a group of American diplomats from capture," Harper said. "Ken Taylor represented the very best that Canada's foreign service has to offer."

Wire services

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