Jay, Ricky

Jay, Ricky, 1946–2018, American magician, actor, and writer, b. Brooklyn, N.Y., as Richard Jay Potash. The grandson of a fine amateur magician, Jay first performed at age four and as a teenager began working in New York resorts and in New York City. After moving (1972) to Los Angeles, he studied magic with Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller. Jay worked as an opening act for bands and performed on television, but his speciality was confounding sleight of hand in close quarters with playing cards and other simple means, accompanied by clever patter. He could also use cards as projectiles, flinging them at high speed, impaling them into objects. He acted in some 40 movies, including The Natural (1984) and Boogie Nights (1997), and on television shows. A friend of David Mamet, Jay appeared in several Mamet films, notably House of Games (1987), The Spanish Prisoner (1997), and The Heist (2001), and Mamet directed Jay's one-man, off-Broadway Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants (1992). Jay amassed one of the finest collections of books, pamphlets, and ephemera dealing with magic and human oddities, and became a scholar of the magical and the strange. Jay (with fellow magician Michael Weber) founded the firm Deceptive Practices in the early 1990s, and consulted on several Hollywood films. He wrote 11 books on the history and nature of his art, e.g. Cards as Weapons (1977), and on eccentric and astonishing entertainers, e.g., Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women (1986) and Celebrations of Curious Characters (2011).

See his Jay's Journal of Anomalies (2003) and Matthias Buchinger (2016); M. Bernstein, dir., Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay (documentary, 2012).

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