Ricky Jay, the renowned magician, sleight-of-hand artist, card thrower and actor who appeared in Boogie Nights and Deadwood, died Saturday at the age of 72.
His manager Winston Simone confirmed Jay’s death to Variety, adding that the magician died of natural causes. “He was one of a kind. We will never see the likes of him again,” Simone said. Michael Weber, Jay’s co-partner in his company Deceptive Practices, added, “I am sorry to share that my remarkable friend, teacher, collaborator and co-conspirator is gone.”
As an actor, Jay appeared in a handful of David Mamet’s films – including House of Games, Homicide, The Spanish Prisoner, Heist and State and Main – as well as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia, with Jay also providing narration in the latter film. Jay also played a card sharp on Deadwood, a cyber terrorist the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, a murdered magician on The X-Files and voiced himself in an episode of The Simpsons.
However, Jay is most well-known for his contributions to the field of magic: One of the first magicians to open for rock acts in the Sixties and the Guinness Book of World Records-holder for farthest card thrower, Jay’s acts frequently featured Jay throwing a playing card with such velocity that it pierced the rind of a watermelon. Jay was also renowned for his ability to manipulate a deck of cards as showcased in his trick “The Four Queens.”
In 1996, Mamet filmed Jay’s one-man Broadway performance for the HBO special Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants. A documentary about Jay’s mysterious life, Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, arrived in 2012.
Jay was also the subject of a noteworthy 1993 New Yorker profile that delved into the magician’s abilities, his self-exile from the magic community and his fevered attempts to preserve the history of his craft.
Steve Martin, who appeared in Leap of Faith with Jay, said of the magician, “I sort of think of Ricky as the intellectual élite of magicians. I’ve had experience with magicians my whole life He’s expertly able to perform and yet he knows the theory, history, literature of the field. Ricky’s a master of his craft. You know how there are those teachers of creative writing who can’t necessarily write but can teach? Well, Ricky can actually do everything.”
Later in his career, Jay co-founded his Deceptive Practices, which assisted and consulted with Hollywood productions regarding scenes that required sleight-of-hand, deception or other of Jay’s specialties. The company worked on films like Ocean’s 13, The Prestige, Forrest Gump and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, whose director Christopher McQuarrie tweeted of Jay Saturday, “An off-handed comment he made inspired the climax of the opera sequence. It’s safe to say it would not be the same scene without him. He was the greatest of a vanishing breed.”
“I know some people find this strange and weird,” Jay said in the conclusion of the 1993 profile. “Actually, after this life I’ve lived, I have no idea what is strange and weird and what isn’t. I don’t know who else waxes poetic about the virtues of skeleton men, fasting impostors, and cannonball catchers. And, to be honest, I don’t really care. I just think they’re wonderful. I really do.”