While other wizards breathed fire, cut women in half or make whole buildings disappear, Ricky Jay made remarkable feats using little more than the tips of his fingers. These were, strictly speaking, nothing more than tricks or illusions, games of hands made by a master magician.
But for those who witnessed Mr. Jay up close, turning over a row of red Bee letters to reveal an unexpected hand, or throwing them across the room like wild projectiles, his magic tricks were nothing more than works of art. art, scratching his head. , wonderful achievements that made him "perhaps the most gifted hand-play artist in the world," as journalist Mark Singer wrote in a 1993 article for the New Yorker.
Mr. Jay, who was also an actor, film consultant and renowned scholar of trusted tricksters and exotic artists, was 72 years old when he died on November 25 at his home in Los Angeles. Its manager, Winston Simone, said the precise cause was not immediately known.
A stout figure wearing dark suits and a short gray beard, Mr. Jay followed his mentor Dai Vernon, a Canadian magician known as the Professor, in treating a deck of cards as a living being, to be taken seriously and handled with sensitivity. .
However, he was also prone to throwing a letter in the air like a boomerang, then cutting it with scissors when it returned to his hand. In some programs, he impaled a watermelon peel (he called it "thick pachydermic outer melon layer") with a card thrown at speeds approaching 90 miles per hour.
Raised in New York City, Mr. Jay began performing magic tricks at age 4 and continued to perfect his performance on variety television shows and touring with musicians such as Ike and Tina Turner. Celebrated for a long time by his fellow magicians, he began reaching an international audience in the early 1990s, and received a special mention of the Obie Award for "Ricky Jay and his 52 attendees," which premiered on Broadway in 1994 and then he showed up in England and Australia.
Originally run by his friend David Mamet, the one-man show featured a non-stop comic pattern from Mr. Jay, who invited audience members to the stage while performing tricks with cards, a ball and a cup and a collection of rope toys.
"Instead of a magician's cloak, he wears an invisible and authoritative cloak of accumulated traditions," wrote Ben Brantley, critic of the New York Times. Mr. Jay, he added, was "equally at home reciting a melodramatic broadband ballad about a shark of cards and his son, the translation of a poem by François Villon on how a player's money disappears, and the most brazen jargon. of the contemporary con man. "
His work was informed by a deep knowledge of "cheating in all its forms," as Mr. Jay once said. Marker McCorison, former president of the American Antiquarian Society, told Marcus McCorison, former president of the American Antiquarian Society, a collector of dice in decay, discolored ads for circus performers and magical books dating back to the sixteenth century. the New Yorker.
While Mr. Jay hated to reveal the secrets of his tricks, he was hired to create film tricks for films like "The Escape Artist" (1982) and "The Natural" (1984), so he taught Robert Redford how to get a coin from someone's ear.
Along with his friend Michael Weber, a fellow magician, he formed the consulting company Deceptive Practices, which offered "arcane knowledge based on a need to know" and devised the wheelchair for the character of Gary Sinise in "Forrest Gump" ( 1994), a military veteran and double amputee.
"Because Gary was not willing to have his legs amputated for the movie, they had to call us," Mr. Jay explained to the Los Angeles Times.
He also acted as an actor, appearing as a card sharpener in the first season of HBO Western's "Deadwood," as a villain in the James Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Dies," and as a cameraman in "Boogie Nights," director of Paul Thomas Anderson. . 1997 Epic about the California porn industry. And he appeared in "Heist" (2001) and in other films directed by Mamet, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who said they were linked by a shared interest in scammers and cons.
But he seemed to be more at home performing his deceptions live, in front of small and enthusiastic audiences in theaters or at private parties. Once, while performing at a New Year's event in Los Angeles, a guest named Mort asked Mr. Jay to "do something really amazing," according to Singer's New Yorker profile.
Mr. Jay asked him to name a card, and Mort decided on the three hearts.
"After shuffling," Singer wrote, "Jay grabbed the palm of his right hand and threw it, cascading the 52 letters so they would travel across the table and throw a bottle of wine open." After asking Mort to name his card one more time, Mr. Jay ordered the guest to "look inside the bottle."
"Mort discovered, nestled inside his neck, the three of hearts," Singer continued. "The party dissolved immediately."
Richard Jay Potash was born in Brooklyn on June 26, 1946 and kept the details of his early life as fiercely as the secrets of his tricks. He told the New Yorker that his family moved from Brooklyn to the suburbs of New Jersey when he was a child, and he remembered that his father used Brylcreem in his hair and Colgate in his teeth.
"Once, when I was 10 years old, I changed the tubes," Mr. Jay said. "All you need to know about my father is that after brushing his teeth with Brylcreem he put toothpaste in his hair."
As a child actor, he found early support from his grandfather Max Katz, an accountant who served as president of the Society of American Magicians and introduced him to leading illusionists such as Tony Slydini, Francis Carlyle and his mentor, Vernon. He left home when he was 15 years old, moved with a friend's family and studied at schools like Cornell University before retiring to attend full-time.
Mr. Jay wrote several books, including "Cards as Weapons" (1977) and "Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women" (1986), a history of unusual artists, and numerous articles on magic and magical history.
Survivors include his wife, Chrisann Verges, a film and television producer.
While Mr. Jay's legacy seemed firmly secured in recent years, it was the subject of the 2012 documentary "Deceptive Practice." He said that sometimes he struggled to convince people that his tricks were those of an artist, little different from the work of an artist. Actor in the theater or a musician in the symphony.
"It would have been easier to understand in the Elizabethan era," he told People magazine in 1987. "All my life I've been on the periphery of this world and I've been considered somewhat eccentric." I'm eccentric. It seems that people are now willing to attach a label of respectability. That is not unpleasant. It is quite rewarding. But it has not made me less eccentric. "