Ricky Jay, the master magician and veteran actor who starred in Deadwood and Boogie Nights, has died of natural causes in Los Angeles at the age of 72, according to Variety.
Jay had a long and varied career in Hollywood in addition to his magic act. As an actor, Jay played card sharp Eddie Sawyer in the HBO series Deadwood and appeared as a Bond villain’s henchman in Tomorrow Never Dies. He also appeared in Boogie Nights as well as a number of David Mamet films– House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner, Things Change, Redbelt, and State and Main. Jay also teamed up with Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson again, providing the narration for Anderson’s film Magnolia.
Jay also performed in three one-man shows which were directed by Mamet– Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants, Ricky Jay: On The Stem, and Ricky Jay: A Rogue’s Gallery.
In addition to performing his role in Deadwood, Jay also wrote some of the show’s scripts.
Master magician and historian Ricky Jay has passed away. The breadth of his knowledge and appreciation for magic and the allied arts was truly remarkable. Such sad news, such a profound loss. #RIP https://t.co/VRYRxhkQKr
— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) November 25, 2018
While Jay was clearly a talented thespian, he was perhaps even more well-known for his work as a magician. Born Richard Jay Potash, Jay learned magic from his grandfather while growing up in Brooklyn, and got his start opening for rock bands in New York City. He later started a company, Deceptive Practices, which provided special effects solutions for television and films. Jay and Deceptive Practices were the designers of the wheelchair that hid Gary Sinise’s legs in Forrest Gump, the “glass that drinks itself” used by the gorilla in Congo, and also lent his talents to films such as The Prestige, The Illusionist, and Ocean’s Thirteen. Jay was also responsible for the effect in the Broadway version of Angels In America: Perestroika, where a man climbs up on a ladder of light before vanishing into thin air.
Jay was an intensely intellectual man who owned a large library of historical texts. A gifted writer, he wrote two books as well as a number of articles for The New Yorker, while also spending time lecturing at museums and universities.
Jay’s death led to an outpouring of reminiscing from many in the Hollywood community.
Winston Simone, who was Jay’s longtime manager, said “He was one of a kind. We will never see the likes of him again.”
Michael Weber, Jay’s partner in their company Deceptive Practices, tweeted “I am sorry to share that my remarkable friend, teacher, collaborator and co-conspirator is gone.”
Actor-Comedian Steve Martin said, “I sort of think of Ricky as the intellectual élite of magicians. He’s expertly able to perform and yet he knows the theory, history, literature of the field.”