Farewell, Ricky Jay

*Poof* He’s Gone

Ricky Jay photographed by Jill Krementz on January 26, 1998 in his Manhattan apartment.

A member of the board of directors where I work is a magician. He’s also a mortician, which adds to his mystique. He also vomits cards at large events we host, which generates laughs, but not revenue. But he’s no Ricky Jay. There is no Ricky Jay anymore. Fans of magic, conjurers, illusionists, hacks and greats all mourn today.

Ricky Jay was born Richard Jay Potash in Brooklyn in 1946 or 1948 and grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was elusive about his childhood, as are many of us who were raised there.

Jay first performed magic at age four and left home at 15. He was a man of many firsts: Most likely the youngest magician to perform a full magic act on TV, and the first magician to open for a rock band, Ike and Tina Turner. Mysterious yet accessible, poker-faced yet twinkly-eyed, Jay appeared in more
than 40 films, authored 11 books, was a film consultant, lecturer, historian and curator. His one-man show Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants sold out all of its New York City performances and won an Obie Award. In films and TV, he appeared in The X Files, Deadwood and Tomorrow Never Dies, often playing a version of himself; stoic magician, card sharp, grifter, or, in Boogie Nights, a porn cameraman. He was David Mamet’s muse, appearing in many of his films. He was a longtime member of the Academy of Magical Arts.

The New Yorker called him “perhaps one of the most gifted sleight of hand artists alive”. And now, *poof* Ricky Jay is gone. And who do we have to carry on the art of sleight of hand and close-up magic? Who will deliver the wonder and satisfaction of a good old-fashioned card trick? Kreskin, Gallagher, David Blaine or Neil Patrick Harris just won’t do.

Photo © Jill Krementz 1998

Kathy O'Neill

Kathy O'Neill is a writer, journalist, special events producer and publicist. She works for the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago. She was the Midwest Correspondent for ABCNews.com and a and Field Producer and Desk Assistant for Nightline, Good Morning America and World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.

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