John Sheardown, Canadian Diplomat Who Helped Inspire 'Argo,' Dies at 88

Warner Bros.' 'Argo'
Warner Bros.

So far, Argo, Ben Affleck’s period hostage drama, is the season’s critical favorite. The challenge for Warner Bros. will be to keep the momentum going in the face of challengers. Argo, described by one industry veteran as “smart popcorn,” has the advantage of being a box-office hit, grossing $77 million through Nov. 5 and counting. The studio also will make a best-picture push for Christopher Nolan’s final Batman pic, The Dark Knight Rises (though its predecessor failed to crack the best pic circle), as well as Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

The second-ranking member of the Canadian Embassy hid four Americans in his home during the Iranian hostage crisis.

John Sheardown, a Canadian diplomat who helped inspire events in Ben Affleck’s Argo, has died. He was 88. 

He died Sunday in Ottawa after being treated for Alzheimer’s disease, The New York Times reports.

Sheardown was the second-ranking member of the Canadian Embassy in Iran when militants took control of the United States Embassy in Tehran, capturing all but five of its employees. (They were later joined by a sixth.)

Sheardown hid four of those Americans in his home for nearly four months during the Iranian hostage crisis. The remaining two Americans stayed in the home of the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor.

PHOTOS: Hollywood's Notable Deaths of 2012           

Taylor was portrayed by Victor Garber in Argo, but Sheardown was not included in the film. Affleck told the Times that Sheardown and his wife Zena, who also sheltered the Americans, were left out because of time constraints, story reasons and cost. But Affleck was aware of their contributions and said not including them was difficult.

“They got lost in the shuffle,” Affleck said of the Sheardowns. “It really did break my heart a bit.”

In its first secret meeting since World War II, the Canadian Parliament made Sheardown’s hiding of the Americans in his 20-room home part of his official duties.

To disguise the fact that he was shopping for an expanded household, Sheardown bought his groceries from multiple stores and bribed his garbage collector to turn a blind eye to his home's increased trash output. The hidden Americans disguised themselves as Canadian filmmakers on a location scouting mission and learned to speak like Sheardown’s countrymen. 

PHOTOS: How the CIA Fooled Hollywood With Fake 'Argo' Movie

In addition to his service in Tehran, Sheardown was a pilot in World War II, during which he survived a crash landing in a British village. He worked for Canada’s immigration service in the 1960s and later joined its foreign service.  

He was awarded a high honor from his country, the Order of Canada, and campaigned for his wife to receive the accolade, too, for her role in hiding the diplomats. Though she had been ineligible for consideration because she had not lived in Canada, she was eventually granted the honor.

Sheardown is survived by his wife, two sons, two sisters, six grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.