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'Boogie Nights' Actor Ricky Jay Dies At 72

David Shankbone

Ricky Jay, actor, magician, and special effects consultant, who famously appeared in the 1997 film Boogie Nights, has passed away.

Jay, who was once described as "the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive," died on November 24 at his home in Los Angeles, according to his longtime manager Winston Simone.

He was believed to be 70, however, some reports said he was 72 years old.

No cause of death was specified, but sources report he died of natural causes.

Ricky Jay in "Boogie Nights."Consequence of Sound

Jay, whose real name was Richard Jay Potash, started performing magic tricks at the age of four. After his family moved to New Jersey from Brooklyn, he appeared on a television show called Time for Pets, and was dubbed "world's youngest magician."

"Early on, I knew I didn’t want to do the kind of magic other people were doing," Jay explained in a 1993 profile in The New Yorker.

He slowly rose to fame with the help of his "out-of-left-field brand of gonzo-hip comedy magic, a combination of chops and artistic irreverence."

Ricky Jay at the premiere of Redbelt at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.David Shankbone

In 1987, Jay booked his first film role for the thriller House of Games. He went on to appear in over 40 films and television shows, including The X-Files, the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), HBO's Deadwood, and a variety of PBS specials.

Jay also performed several one-man off-Broadway productions over the years, including Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants. He was also a regular on talk shows, including Late Night with David Letterman and The Tonight Show.

Jay was also a writer who authored several works, including Cards as Weapons (1977), Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women (1986), and Celebrations of Curious Characters (2011).

In the 1990s, he and Michael Weber created a special effects consulting firm called Deceptive Practices. They were responsible for making Gary Sinise's Vietnam War veteran character in Forrest Gump appear like a double amputee.

"He was an American treasure. We will never see the likes of this magnificent entertainer again," Simone said in a statement.

Many of Jay's fellow entertainers and friends also praised him for his remarkable talent, wit, and immense contributions to the entertainment industry.

"The breadth of his knowledge and appreciation for magic and the allied arts was truly remarkable," wrote How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris.

Teller, the half of the magician duo Penn & Teller also paid tribute to the late showman.

"We're very sad today. Our friend Ricky Jay is dead at 72. An afternoon in Ricky Jay's apartment was an education," he tweeted. "To see one of his shows was to luxuriate in past and present, choice, witty language and dazzling sleight of hand."

Jay is survived by his wife, Emmy-winning producer Chrisann Verges, whom he married in 2002.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. May he rest in peace.

Awa has been writing for Shared for 3 years. She is a serial snacker who unapologetically loves celebrity gossip. Drop her a line at awa@shared.com.