Ricky Jay death: Magician and actor, who appeared in Boogie Nights and Magnolia, dies aged 72

'One of the best who ever lived'

Roisin O'Connor@Roisin_OConnor
Sunday 25 November 2018 09:51
Ricky Jay appears on Late Night with David Letterman in 1990

American magician and actor Ricky Jay has died in Los Angeles, his manager has confirmed.

Jay was known both as a gifted sleight-of-hand artist and also for appearances in films such as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, as terrorist Henry Gupta.

More recently, he played Eddie Sawyer in season one of the television programme Deadwood. He wrote the episode “Jewel’s Boot Is Made for Walking” for the show.

Born Richard Jay Potash in Brooklyn, Jay did not discuss his childhood or upbringing in public. His exact date of birth is not known, but Variety reports that he was 72.

He reportedly began performing in public as a magician when he was four-years-old. He played a number of shows at comedy venues and nightclubs in New York, opening for rock bands – he was believed to be one of the first musicians to do so.

One of his most legendary skills was as a card-thrower: at shows he could throw cards into watermelon rinds from 10 paces away.

According to the BBC, Guinness World Records once reportedly listed Jay as throwing a playing card 190ft (58m) at 90mph (145km/h). A New Yorker profile called him the “most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive.

In one particularly iconic incident, Jay was once invited to a New Year’s Eve dinner party at the home of Deborah Baron, a screenwriter in Los Angeles.

“About a dozen other people attended. Well past midnight, everyone gathered around a coffee table as Jay, at Baron’s request, did closeup card magic,” the story went. ”When he had performed several dazzling illusions and seemed ready to retire, a guest named Mort said, ‘Come on, Ricky. Why don’t you do something truly amazing?’

“Baron recalls that at that moment “the look in Ricky’s eyes was, like, ‘Mort—you have just f***ed with the wrong person.’”

“Jay told Mort to name a card, any card. Mort said, “The three of hearts.” 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.”

Tributes from fellow actors and magicians are already flooding in on social media.

Penn Jilette, of magic duo Penn & Teller, described him as “one of the best who ever lived”. How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris called his death a “profound loss”.

A documentary about his life, “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay,” was released in 2012.

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