The Overlooked Hero of Argo Has Died — And You’ve Probably Never Heard His Name

He played a crucial role in the incredible story that inspired the Ben Affleck film.

Kenneth D. Taylor, the Canadian ambassador to Iran who played a huge role in the rescue of six Americans during the November 1979 Iranian Revolution, has died at 81, the New York Timesreports.

Taylor, whose courage in hiding the Americans earned him a Congressional Gold Medal and a certain amount of fame in the lower 48, passed away in New York’s Presbyterian Hospital after battling cancer, reports The Globe and Mail.

Taylor was a huge part of the “Canadian Caper” that resulted in the rescue of those six hostages, but you wouldn’t know it from pop culture’s memory of the incident. The ambassador, who was played by Victor Garber in Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo, took issue with the hit film’s focus on Affleck’s character, CIA agent Tony Mendez, and rightfully so. While the CIA’s clever cover masquerading as a movie crew to make it into Iran made for a great story, it was Taylor and the Canadian embassy’s First Secretary John Sheardown who put their lives at risk to hide the Americans from revolutionaries while the CIA dreamed up an extraction plan.

After the Affleck movie won the Oscar and the actor mentioned Canada in his acceptance speech, the Associated Press reported Taylor’s frank response: “Finally, he mentioned Canada.” Former president Jimmy Carter’s statement that “90 percent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan” were Canadian did leave Taylor somewhat mollified.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement regarding Taylor’s death, reported Reuters, noting that the former ambassador “valiantly risked his own life by shielding a group of American diplomats from capture,” and that he was representative of the “very best that Canada’s foreign service has to offer.” 

“He did all sorts of things for everyone without any expectation of something coming back,” Taylor’s widow told the Associated Press of his generosity. “It’s why that incident in Iran happened. There was no second thought about it. He just went ahead and did it. His legacy is that giving is what is important, not receiving. With all his friends that’s what he did.”

We salute a real hero who was ready to give his life for his neighbors. Canada may have lost a brave ex-Foreign Service officer, but America lost a real friend. 

Photos by Boris Premo/Toronto Star/Getty