In the entertainment industry, crossing the streams s a common occurrence. Actors want to be rock stars. Rock stars want to be actors. Actors want to be novelists. Very seldom does the second occupation lead to very much success. Ricky Jay is one exception to the rule. The master illusionist turned actor died on Saturday of natural causes. He was 72.
Ricky Jay, born Richard Jay Potash, was introduced to magic at an early age by his grandfather, Max Potash. He became so proficient at magic that he was able to perform a set of magic tricks on TV at the age of 7. He soon developed into a master magician, one who was skilled enough to take his magic act to comedy clubs and become a rare magician who could perform as an opening act for rock musicians.
When he moved out to Hollywood, Jay quick became a sought-out advisor for films and TV shows that dealt with magic, confidence schemes, slight of hand and other tricks. Through his work behind the scenes, he started getting work on screen, starting with a March 1983 episode of the Simon & Simon TV series.
In 1987, Jay made his big screen debut in House of Games. It was the film directorial debut of David Mamet and started a long partnership between the pair. Jay would appear in Mamet films such as Things Change, Homicide, The Spanish Prisoner, State and Main, Heist and Redbelt and Mamet would direct three of Jay’s stage shows: Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants, Ricky Jay: On the Stem, and Ricky Jay: A Rogue’s Gallery. Mamet would also direct the cable TV adaptation of the first special.
In addition with he partnership with Mamet, Jay also made two films with Paul Thomas Anderson–Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Jay also appeared in films such as Tomorrow Never Dies, Mystery Men, Heartbreakers, Last Days, and The Prestige.
Jay and business partner Michael Weber created Deceptive Practice, a firm that advised filmmakers on practical, stage illusion-inspired solutions to tricky special effects.