Tony Mendez, real-life ‘Argo’ CIA hero, reveals he has Parkinson’s disease

Tony Mendez, the retired CIA agent played by Ben Affleck in the hit movie “Argo,” has revealed that he is battling Parkinson’s disease.

Mendez and his wife, Jonna, spoke about his condition during a four-day symposium run this week by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, as well as in an interview with the Washington Post. The couple revealed Mendez has been suffering symptoms for years and that they intentionally tried to hide the fact that he was sick in 2012, as he did promotion for the film based on his life.

Tony Mendez, the retired CIA agent who was played by Ben Affleck in the movie "Argo,'' has revealed that he is suffering from Parkinson's disease in order to help seek more alternative treatments for the disease.

Leigh Vogel / Getty Images

Tony Mendez, the retired CIA agent who was played by Ben Affleck in the movie “Argo,” has revealed that he is suffering from Parkinson’s disease in order to help seek more alternative treatments for the disease.

“I started crying when they talked about doing a book tour for Argo,” Jonna, a 27-year-veteran of the CIA herself, said at the symposium. “I didn’t think he could do it. There is nothing better than a little determination and grit that will get you through — just like he did when he worked. It was up to me to help disguise his disease.”

Mendez is best known for helping six American diplomats escape from Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis by having them pose as a Canadian film crew, which became the basis for Argo. He also has written three memoirs, including a 2012 book that went in depth on the 1980 rescue.

The two are now trying to use Tony’s name to help push for new treatments for Parkinson’s.

“If we can fill a room, to get a bunch of people to listen, whether it’s about ‘Argo,’ whether it’s about ‘this is how I deal with Parkinson’s’ … then this is just his latest operation,” Jonna told the Post.

Tony Mendez and his wife Jonna, shown here with Dr. Neal Kassell, a neurosurgeon and founder of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, revealed Tony's struggles with Parkinson's disease at a symposium run by the foundation this week.

STEPHANIE GROSS / Courtesy of Focused Ultrasound

Tony Mendez and his wife Jonna, shown here with Dr. Neal Kassell, a neurosurgeon and founder of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, revealed Tony’s struggles with Parkinson’s disease at a symposium run by the foundation this week.

They also discussed the use of new technologies like focused ultrasound, an early-stage technology that uses sound waves to treat disease without invasive surgery. Focused ultrasound is a procedure in which a doctor directs “a focused beam of acoustic energy through the patient’s scalp, skull, and brain to thermally coagulate a small area of the brain, thereby destroying targeted tissue without damaging nearby tissue or the tissues through which the beam passes on its way to the target,” according to the Focused Ultrasound Foundation.

“We come from a technical background — we were the gadget guys — it was all about clandestine technology and solving problems with new technology,” Tony said at the symposium. “If a device didn’t exist, we would invent it and that’s where some of our best stuff came from. We’ve always been interested in new technology and that is why we support the development of new technologies like focused ultrasound so that in the future patients do not have to undergo the trauma of brain surgery.”

Tony Mendez was suffering from Parkinson's while promoting the movie "Argo" when it was released in 2012 but kept the diagnosis a secret until now.

STEPHANIE GROSS / Courtesy of Focused Ultrasound

Tony Mendez was suffering from Parkinson’s while promoting the movie “Argo” when it was released in 2012 but kept the diagnosis a secret until now.

Mendez’s pursuit of alternative treatments for Parkinson’s came after other measures had failed to consistently address his pain.

“We got to a spot in the progress of the disease where you don’t know what the pain is going to be that particular day,” Mendez said during the talk. “Twice we came up to the line of introducing more technology into the equation and walked away. The third time it was clear that we needed to do something beyond medication and unfortunately at this time the only available option was to undergo surgery to have a Deep Brain Stimulation device implanted.”