The ex-CIA officer credited for rescuing six US diplomats from Iran in 1980 has passed from complications of Parkinson’s.
Antonio “Tony” Mendez had joined the CIA in 1965 and became master at disguises and rescues.
During the Iranian Revolution in the late 70’s, protestors stormed the US Embassy holding 66 embassy staffers hostage. 6 had escaped to the homes of two Canadian diplomats but were unable to leave the country. Mendez was able to disguise them as a film crew and smuggle them out in 1980, portrayed in Argo, the Academy Award winning film starring (and directed by) Ben Affleck.
After 444 days the other hostages were released on President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
He retired from the CIA in 1990 and wrote memoirs of his experiences. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s ten years ago. A statement from his agent and family reported he passed this week in an assisted-living facility in Maryland.
The Hollywood Reporter reports:
“EARLY THIS MORNING, ANTONIO (TONY) J. MENDEZ FINALLY SUCCUMBED TO THE PARKINSON’S DISEASE THAT HE HAD BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH TEN+ YEARS AGO. HE WAS SURROUNDED WITH LOVE FROM HIS FAMILY AND WILL BE SORELY MISSED,” THE STATEMENT READ. “THE LAST THING HE AND HIS WIFE JONNA MENDEZ DID WAS GET THEIR NEW BOOK TO THE PUBLISHER AND HE DIED FEELING HE HAD COMPLETED WRITING THE STORIES THAT HE WANTED TO BE TOLD.”
Ben Affleck, in response to the news, tweeted the following:
"Tony Mendez was a true American hero. He was a man of extraordinary grace, decency, humility and kindness. He never sought the spotlight for his actions, he merely sought to serve his country. I'm so proud to have worked with him and told one of his stories."
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, next to Alzheimer’s, and the most common movement disorder that affects 1% of the world’s population over 60 years old. In the US, 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. It affects several areas of the brain, primarily the substantia nigra, altering balance and movement by affecting dopamine producing cells.
It was first described in 1817 by James Parkinson as a “shaking palsy.”
What are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s?
Common symptoms of Parkinson’s include:
- Stiffness and rigidity
- Poor balance
- Tremor at rest, especially a pill-rolling tremor
- Slow movement
- Inability to move
- Shuffling steps, gait
and patients may later develop…
- Memory loss
- Decrease ability to smell
- Difficulty swallowing
- Erectile dysfunction
- Fractures from falling
Who is at Risk for Parkinson’s?
Most cases are idiopathic, meaning the disease arises with no specific cause. However some cases are genetic and multiple genes have been identified that are associated with the disease.
The average age of onset is 60, but some cases may occur as “early onset”, before the age of 50, and if before the age of 20, it is known as juvenile-onset Parkinson’s.
Men appear to be more affected than women at twice the rate.
Risk may be enhanced with a history of head trauma.
Exposure to herbicides and pesticides has been linked to an increase risk of Parkinson’s as well.
How Quickly do Parkinson’s Symptoms Progress?
Average progression rates can last years to decades, however, earlier onset disease may manifest much quicker.
How is Parkinson’s treated?
Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s, symptoms can be treated by a variety of measures.
- Levodopa – converts to dopamine in the brain, helping replace the deficient hormone.
- Carbidopa (Sinemet) – if given with levodopa prevents the latter from being broken down before it reaches the brain.
- Dopamine agonists – mimic dopamine
- MAO-B inhibitors – helps block the enzyme MAO-B, which breaks down natural dopamine
- Other medications including COMT inhibitors, amantadine and anticholinergics
- Medications to treat anxiety and depression
- Deep brain stimulation – a surgeon implants electrodes into the brain, allowing stimulation of parts that help regulate movement.
- Stem cell therapy – being investigated as a means to create dopamine-producing cells
- Physical and occupational therapy
Famous People Diagnosed with Parkinson’s
- Alan Alda
- Michael J. Fox
- Janet Reno
- Robin Williams
- Muhammad Ali
- Casey Kasem
- Johnny Cash
- Linda Ronstadt
- Pope John Paul II
- Peanuts creator Charles Schulz
- Rev. Jesse Jackson
- Neil Diamond
Daliah Wachs is a guest contributor to GCN news, her views and opinions, medical or otherwise, if expressed, are her own. Doctor Wachs is an MD, FAAFP and a Board Certified Family Physician. The Dr. Daliah Show , is nationally syndicated M-F from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm and Saturday from Noon-1:00 pm (all central times) at GCN.