October 15, 2015 2:55 pm
Updated: October 15, 2015 9:10 pm

Ken Taylor, Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, dead at 81

WATCH: Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Iran who became famous for sheltering six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis, has died. Tom Clark looks back at Taylor's life.

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Former Canadian diplomat Ken Taylor, who helped six U.S. citizens escape during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, died Thursday. He was 81.

A family member confirmed to Global News Taylor passed away surrounded by family members at the New York-Presbyterian hospital.

Canadian politicians offered their condolences and kind words on Taylor’s record as a diplomat.

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READ MORE: ‘Argo’ gave him a supporting role, but Ken Taylor was a leader in diplomacy

“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,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement. “Ken Taylor represented the very best that Canada’s foreign service has to offer.”

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair offered his condolences to the Taylor family, and in a tweet called the man “a heroic Canadian diplomat”.

In a tweet Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Taylor was a “true Canadian hero” who would be missed.

Bob Rae called Taylor a “star” of the Canadian foreign service.

“I was very sorry to learn just now of the death of Ken Taylor, a star of the Canadian foreign service and brave soul,” Rae said on Twitter.

U.S. ambassador Bruce Heyman hailed his “valour and ingenuity” in harbouring the six Americans, an act of bravery for which he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

“Ambassador Taylor’s courageous actions exemplify the enduring nature of the special relationship between the United States and Canada.”

WATCH: Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson shares memories of his colleague Ken Taylor, former Canadian ambassador to Iran, and his impact on the world.

Taylor became a household name in 1979 when, as Canada’s ambassador to Iran, he provided Canadian passports for six American diplomats to help them flee from Tehran during the Iranian revolution in a plan labelled the ‘Canadian Caper.’


ARCHIVE: Ken Taylor gives his take on “Argo” (Aired on Oct. 11, 2012)

WATCH ABOVE: In archive footage from 1979, then-ambassador Ken Taylor speaks after Iran hostage crisis

The story inspired the 2012 American film, Argo, with Taylor played by Canadian actor Victor Garber. Ben Affleck directed and starred in the movie, based on the book The Master of Disguise by Tony Mendez, a CIA agent involved in the incident.

After its premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, the film was criticized for unfairly minimizing the participation of Taylor and the Canadian government in the covert CIA operation.

“In general it makes it seem like the Canadians were just along for the ride. The Canadians were brave. Period,” Taylor said in a 2013 interview with the Associated Press.

The movie went on to win three Academy Awards, including best picture, where Affleck acknowledged Taylor in his acceptance speech.

READ MORE: What does the Iran nuclear deal mean for Canadians?

In an interview with Global News last April, Taylor spoke about Canada’s frosty relationship with Iran saying that it was time for things to thaw.

“(Ottawa’s) policy is not a flexible one and not a dynamic one,” Taylor said during a phone interview from his home in New York.

WATCH: Ken Taylor speaks at the Centre for International Governance Innovation

“I’m very much in favor of what President Obama calls engagement. Diplomacy for me is, one way or another, a method to influence an adversary. And to do that you need an exchange, you need to even though you’re not partial to that regime.”

In 1980, Taylor was made an Officer of the Order of Canada along with his wife Pat and other Canadian personnel involved in the escape. He was also awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal that same year.

Taylor resided in New York City, but remained a Canadian citizen.

WATCH ABOVE: Ken Taylor speaks with Global Calgary about his role in the Iranian hostage crisis and the movie Argo

*With files from Kam Razavi and The Canadian Press

© 2015 Global News

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