Honestly, though, he really would’ve loved the epitaph, which I’ll admit I’ve chosen because there are no quotes of his on his IMDb page. I think it would’ve appealed to his sense of humour. I’m not as familiar with Ricky Jay as some of my friends. Some of my friends are magicians, you see. Mostly of an amateur variety, but magicians nonetheless. And my goodness but magicians admire Ricky Jay, as they should. Because he was amazing.
In fact he was on call a lot when people wanted to use practical effects instead of CGI. It seems he was the one who designed Major Dan’s wheelchair in Forrest Gump so they wouldn’t just have to cut Gary Sinise’s legs off. If they wanted it to work without using some kind of camera trickery or CGI, Ricky Jay was the one to call. He also played any number of magicians and card sharps over the years, first coming to my attention on his episode of The X-Files. To which one of my friends reacted with, “Hey, that’s Ricky Jay!”
You found yourself saying that a lot, once you knew who he was. He appeared in various places almost at random—he was on an episode of MythBusters, for example, when they were talking about throwing cards. Because Ricky Jay could throw a card into a watermelon from ten paces, which is pretty damn impressive. And if you’re going to find out if it’s possible to kill someone with a playing card, Ricky James was the only person who could’ve done it.
He seems to have been a fairly secretive guy, honestly. He wouldn’t talk about his childhood. Wikipedia lists him as “probably” born in 1948. He apparently wouldn’t talk about his parents except for one anecdote, which I repeat here—his father would, every day, put Bryllcreem on his hair and brush his teeth with Colgate; the tubes were kept about a foot apart. One day, when he was ten, Ricky switched them. He said it was all you needed to know about his father that, after brushing his teeth with Bryllcreem, his father proceeded to put toothpaste in his hair.
He was one of those people I didn’t think about very often, but when I did, it was with a certain amount of pleasure. He was an extremely talented man in ways that people don’t think of; he is the only, to date, magician to have been profiled on American Masters for PBS. And my Gods, if you choose not to celebrate his life any other way—and there are lots of ways to celebrate it, and it’s a fine excuse for watching Mystery Men again—go look up clips of his card tricks on YouTube. They’re astounding. We didn’t know what we had.