Ricky Jay: Magic’s Unsung Genius
For most, magic is a punchline. Arrested Development painted the Bluth family’s resident magician, Gob, as an incompetent and selfish buffoon. Furthermore, the society of magicians he belonged to boasted the tagline “We demand to be taken seriously.” In reality, magic is an underrated art form. Performed correctly, magic combines dexterity and deception to make people believe anything is possible. Every so often, a magician steps into the mainstream. Houdini, James Randi, David Copperfield, David Blaine, and Criss Angel are household names. But Ricky Jay, the master of card manipulation, stands as one of magic’s overlooked titans.
The Ultimate Card Shark
In his early life, Richard Jay Potash developed a love of magic. He performed in public for the first time at the age of seven. From then on, he became the youngest magician to perform a full magic act on television, the first magician to open for a rock band, and the first magician to perform in comedy clubs. Instead of big stage illusions, Jay opted for sleight-of-hand magic. He quickly developed a reputation as one of the fastest and most baffling sleight-of-hand magicians in history.
Jay took magic seriously and denounced any public knowledge of magic’s secrets. However, he boasted a large collection of items important to the history of magic, including books and manuscripts. In addition to his incredible sleight of hand, the magician held the world record for playing-card throwing. He threw a single card 190 feet at a speed of 90 miles per hour. In his act, he used his card-throwing abilities to puncture the skin of a watermelon. Watch this amazing act below!
The Renaissance Man
Of course, someone as prolific as Ricky Jay didn’t stop at magic. Early in his career, he formed a close friendship with playwright David Mamet. Mamet directed three of his specials and cast him in several films. This began a decades-long acting career for the master of deception and he appeared in films such as The Prestige and Magnolia. But wait, there’s more!
Jay authored eleven books and was praised as “the last of the great 19th century authors” by Charles McGrath. His writing work extended into screenwriting. Following his death, Christopher McQuarrie revealed the performer helped him write a pivotal action sequence in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.
Lastly, he contributed to the world of music. He collaborated with Bob Dylan on his music video Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and released a box set of poker-related songs. All in all, Ricky Jay loved art and contributed to as much of the art world as possible.
The Legend Passes
On November 24th, 2018, Ricky Jay passed away. Further details about his death have not been released. He was 70 years old. However, some outlets reported he was 72 years old. He did not talk much about his early life or childhood, so his exact age is not known. And that is befitting for a man who made it his mission to leave people questioning facts and fiction.
So, while Ricky Jay wasn’t a household name, he contributed more than a lot of folks can say to the world of magic, movies, theater, literature, and music. Above all, he was a sleight-of-hand artist, so I’ll leave you with the opening card trick from his outstanding special Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants.
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