TORONTO Ken Taylor, Canada’s ambassador to Iran who sheltered Americans at his residence during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis has died. He was 81.
Taylor’s wife, Pat, said Ken died Thursday after a two-month battle with colon cancer.
Taylor kept the Americans hidden at his residence and at the home of his deputy, John Sheardown, in Tehran for three months. Taylor facilitated their escape by arranging plane tickets and persuading the Ottawa government to issue fake passports.
Born in 1934 in Calgary, Taylor was heralded as a hero for helping save the Americans ‚Äî a clandestine operation that had the full support of then Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark’s government. In a posting on Twitter, Clark called Taylor a Canadian hero and a valued friend.
Some of Taylor’s exploits in Iran in 1979 later became the subject of the 2012 Hollywood film, “Argo.” Taylor and others felt the film underplayed the role he and Canada played.
Taylor’s wife said he was diagnosed with cancer in August and that friends from Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere visited him at New York Presbyterian hospital where he was being treated.
She said Taylor’s legacy is his generosity.
“He did all sorts of things for everyone without any expectation of something coming back,” she told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.
“It’s why that incident in Iran happened,” she said. “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.”
The six U.S. diplomats had managed to slip away when their embassy was overrun in 1979. They spent five days on the move, then took refuge at the Canadian Embassy for the next three months. Taylor immediately agreed to take them in without checking with the Canadian government.
The CIA consulted with Canadian officials on how to organize a rescue, and Canada gave permission for the diplomats to be issued fake Canadian passports.
Tributes poured in for Taylor.
“Ambassador Taylor earned the enduring gratitude of the United States ‚Äî and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal ‚Äî for his valour and ingenuity in harbouring six American citizens trapped in Iran in the aftermath of the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and, ultimately, in securing their safe return,” U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman said in a statement.
“Ambassador Taylor’s courageous actions exemplify the enduring nature of the special relationship between the United States and Canada.”
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.”
Although Taylor’s actions were made famous in the movie “Argo,” which won the 2013 Oscar for best picture, Taylor and others felt slighted by the movie. He said it made Canada look like a meek observer to CIA heroics.
Friends of Taylor were outraged when “Argo” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012. The original postscript of the movie said that Taylor received 112 citations and awards for his work in freeing the hostages and suggested Taylor didn’t deserve them because the movie ends with the CIA deciding to let Canada have the credit for helping the Americans escape.