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Ricky Jay

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Ricky Jay
BornRichard Jay Potash
June 26, 1946
Brooklyn, New York
DiedNovember 24 2018 (age 72)
Los Angeles
CategoriesBooks by Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay (b.1946-d.2018), born Richard Jay Potash, was an American stage magician, actor, and writer. He was considered one of the most knowledgeable and skilled sleight-of-hand experts in the United States. He was notable for his signature card tricks, card throwing, memory feats, and stage patter.


Jay was born in Brooklyn, New York to a middle class Jewish family. His grandfather, Max Katz, was a well-to-do certified public accountant and amateur magician who introduced Jay to the profession.

At least two of his shows, Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants and On the Stem, were directed by David Mamet, who has also cast Jay in a number of his films. Jay has appeared in productions by other directors, notably Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights and Magnolia, as well as The Prestige and season one of HBO's Deadwood as card sharp Eddie Sawyer.

Until recently, Jay was listed in the Guinness Book of Records for throwing a playing card 190 ft at 90 miles per hour (the current record is 216 ft, by Rick Smith, Jr.). Ricky Jay could throw a playing card into a watermelon rind (which he refers to as the "thick, pachydermatous outer melon layer" of "the most prodigious of household fruits") from ten paces.


Jay created a consulting firm, Deceptive Practices, which provides "arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis." His firm's clients are often within the stage, television, and film industries. He has worked with libraries and museums on their collections, including the Mulholland Library of Conjuring and the Allied Arts and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California.


Televised performances

  • The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (October 26, 1970)* Saturday Night Live (1977)
  • Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women - 1 hour special for American TV (1989)
  • Simon Drake's Secret Cabaret (UK)
  • Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants - 1 hour version of his Off-Broadway show, taped for HBO (1996)
  • X Files - The Amazing Maleeni (2000)
  • Hustlers, Hoaxsters, Pranksters, Jokesters and Ricky Jay (1996)
  • MythBusters - Episode 20, "Exploding Jawbreaker, Static Cannon, Deadly Playing Cards." Ricky demonstrated card throwing, and the speed of his throws was clocked. (2003)
  • Deadwood (2004)
  • Tales From The Crypt (Unknown)
  • The Unit (2007)

Feature films

  • House of Games (1987)
  • Things Change (1988)
  • Homicide (1991)
  • The Ranger, the Cook and a Hole in the Sky (1995) (TV)
  • The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
  • Boogie Nights (1997)
  • Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
  • Magnolia (1999)
  • Mystery Men (1999)
  • State and Main (2000)
  • Heist (2001)
  • Heartbreakers (2001)
  • Incident at Loch Ness (2004)
  • Last Days (2005)
  • The Prestige (2006)
  • Redbelt (2008)


When not performing, Ricky Jay collected rare books and artifacts. He was the author of several books:

  • Cards as Weapons (1977)
  • Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women (1986)
  • Many Mysteries Unraveled; or Conjuring Literature in America, 1786-1874 (1990)
  • Jay's Journal of Anomalies (2001)
  • Dice: Deception, Fate, and Rotten Luck (2002)
  • Extraordinary Exhibitions: The Wonderful Remains of an Enormous Head, The Whimsiphusicon and Death to the Savage Unitarians - a collection of 17th, 18th, and 19th-century broadsides. (2005)
  • Ricky Jay Plays Poker (Audio CD 2006)


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