Legendary Magician And Actor Ricky Jay Dies At 72

The sleight-of-hand master who appeared in films such as "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia" died on Saturday in Los Angeles.
Legendary magician Ricky Jay chats with late-night host Jimmy Fallon on March 31, 2014.
Legendary magician Ricky Jay chats with late-night host Jimmy Fallon on March 31, 2014.
NBC via Getty Images

Magic lovers everywhere are mourning the death of Ricky Jay, the master magician and magic historian who appeared in such iconic films as “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” — and who, as a Hollywood consultant, helped make the “impossible seem real” on screen.

Jay died at his Los Angeles home on Saturday. He was 72. His longtime manager, Winston Simone, told Variety that Jay died of natural causes.

“He was one of a kind,” Simone said. “We will never see the likes of him again.”

Described in a 1993 New Yorker profile as the “most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive,” Jay — who was born Richard Jay Potash in Brooklyn — was known for his extraordinary ability to manipulate a deck of cards. In 2002, he broke the Guinness World Record for the farthest throw of a single playing card; he flung one more than 216 feet.

The New Yorker described another of Jay’s mind-boggling feats. At a dinner party, he had asked a guest named Mort to name a card. Mort chose “the three of hearts,” and then this magic happened:

After shuffling, Jay gripped the deck in the palm of his right hand and sprung it, cascading all fifty-two cards so that they travelled the length of the table and pelted an open wine bottle.

“O.K., Mort, what was your card again?”

“The three of hearts.”

“Look inside the bottle.”

Mort discovered, curled inside the neck, the three of hearts. The party broke up immediately.

Jay was a revered figure in Hollywood. Films and TV shows he appeared in included “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “Mystery Men,” the HBO series “Deadwood,” “House of Games” and “The Spanish Prisoner” ― the latter two written and directed by his close friend and collaborator David Mamet. Jay also consulted on many productions — helping illusions come to life on the screen and the stage.

He worked on Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Escape Artist” and Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige.” He also helped to design the wheelchair used by Gary Sinise in “Forrest Gump” that gave the illusion that Sinise’s character, Lt. Dan Taylor, was a double amputee.

Variety described Jay as a “student of all facets of magic, prestidigitation and trickery.” He had a large collection of magical artifacts and historic works, and wrote and spoke extensively about the history of magic and the lives and skills of obscure magicians.

Jay’s passing was mourned widely on social media ― with actors, authors, producers and magic fans alike expressing their affection and awe for him.

“The world has truly lost a little of its magic today,” actor Joe Mantegna wrote on Twitter.

Magician Penn Jillette of “Penn & Teller” fame hailed Jay as “one of the best who ever lived.”

“We’ll all miss you, Ricky. Oh man,” Jillette wrote.

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