Ricky Jay, a revered magician of hands-on games that illuminated centuries of illusionists and consulted with Hollywood to make the impossible seem real, died Saturday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 72 years old.
His long-time manager, Winston Simone, confirmed his death.
Mr. Jay was known for his mastery of the cards, either by conjuring them accurately or throwing them into the shell of a watermelon. He frequented the programs of interviews and acted in several individual shows directed by the dramatist David Mamet, among them "Ricky Jay and his 52 assistants".
The consulting company Mr. Jay founded with Michael Weber in the 1990s, Deceptive Practices, worked with directors in Hollywood and Broadway to create illusions. He also appeared in such films as "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," "Tomorrow Never Dies," and "The Prestige," as well as in the television series "Deadwood."
A student of his craft, Mr. Jay collected artifacts from the history of magic and often wrote about magicians who might otherwise have been forgotten. However, there was a limit to what he would share. Mr. Jay insisted on preserving the mystery behind his tricks.
"Most people realize that magical powers are not invoked and that it is someone who has created a way to disconcert you and entertain you," Mr. Jay said. he told The New York Times in 2002. "The key to that is the surprise, if you're giving away the method, you're denying someone's surprise."
Richard Jay Potash was born in Brooklyn before his family moved to the suburbs of New Jersey, according to a 1993 profile in The New Yorker. But Mr. Jay did not like to reveal his age or talk about his childhood, and he told the magazine: "I grew up like Athena, covered in cards instead of armor, and, at the age of 7, I materialized in a magical television show. "
And Mr. Jay continued to do so, becoming a magician who many considered the best hand-play artist in the world. He "defined the terms of his art" for the Encyclopedia Britannica, according to a biography on his website.
Audiences were often baffled by Mr. Jay's card tricks. When pressed to impress at a dinner, he told a guest to choose a card. After the guest called the three hearts, Mr. Jay shuffled, grabbed the cover and threw it on the table, causing the cards to hit an open bottle of wine, according to The New Yorker. To the consternation of the guest, the three hearts appeared inside the neck of the bottle.
Mr. Jay also wrote and spoke frequently about strange and varied topics that were adjacent to magic, such as scammers and sensory perception. He was once the curator of the Mulholland Library of Conjuration and the Allied Arts and was chosen to be a member of the American Antiquities Society, according to his online biography.
Among the overlooked showman he brought back to life with his research and writing: Matthias Buchinger, an 18th-century German without hands and feet, and Max Malini, who turned coins into ice at the beginning of the 20th century.
"I think Ricky is the intellectual elite of magicians," actor Steve Martin told The New Yorker. "Ricky is a master of his trade."
When The Times was asked about the duplicity of a 2013 article, Mr. Jay, who was survived by his wife, Chrisann Verges, argued: "I would not want to live in a world where you can not be fooled." Because it would mean that you are living in a world where you never trusted anyone or anything. "