Jay Leno keeps his sense of humor in his prime interviews since the Nov. 12 car fire in which he suffered severe second-degree burns to his face, upper body, left arm and hands.
The former Tonight Show presenter, 72, sat down with Hoda Kotb, at his 140,000-square-foot classic car garage in Burbank, for an interview that aired on Wednesday Today. He also gave a print interview People magazine.
“The fact that I have smooth skin, pouty lips and a tighter ass has nothing to do with the accident,” Leno continued to joke. Today in an interview where he was seen telling joke after joke. “That was all secondary.”
Leno was in his garage, with his old friend Dave Killackey, working on his 1907 White Steam car, which had a clogged fuel line. He was under the car. Air was blown through the clogged pipe and Leno was hit by gas. At that moment the pilot light sprang and “my face caught fire”.
Killackey, who was only a few feet away, said Leno “played down” what happened, but was “overwhelmed.” His friend “couldn’t see it [Leno’s] sight. It was a wall of fire.’ He grabbed Leno and put the comedian’s face against his chest to douse the flames. He then tried to put out the car fire.
Leno showed a 1907 White Steam Car Garage from Jay Leno:
Leno went to the bathroom to put cold water on his face. When Killackey joined him, he said the Garage from Jay Leno the host’s injuries were “appalling… When the first two lay [of skin] are peeling right now, you know, this is a real problem.” He called 911 before his friend and paramedics arrived.
When doctors saw Leno, they advised him to go to a burn center immediately. However, he said “I drove home right after” and stayed there for the night. Of that decision, he explained, “Well, my wife of 42 years, Mavis, “isn’t driving anymore. I didn’t want her to get stuck and not know what was going on. It just seemed like the right thing to do — and I think it was.” Leno, who joked that Mavis was “thrilled” when she saw him with his burns, went to the burn unit the next day.
The couple spent the next 9 days at the Grossman Burn Center, with Mavis sleeping by his side. During the treatment process, doctors scraped away layers of burned skin, which was clearly a painful procedure. They said Leno never complained while there, but instead cheered up patients and delivered pizzas to the nurses.
Leno underwent two skin grafts (one with human cadaver skin and one with pig intestine, according to People) to regenerate new, healthy skin on his face and neck. His ear had to be reconstructed. His hands were also badly burned. Kotb noted that Leno has provided many images of his injuries, but Today wouldn’t show them all.
He spent eight hours a day in a hyperbaric chamber — which he described as a sealed glass box — to oxygenate the tissue and help it heal. He said he would think about his act and come up with new jokes to pass the time.
From the TV interview alone, you probably wouldn’t even be able to tell that Leno just passed the ordeal. Kotb asked if he was worried about what he would look like.
“If you’re anything like me, you don’t really worry about how you look,” Leno joked. “If I’m George Clooney, that’s going to be a huge problem.”
A week and a half after being released from the burn center, Leno was back on stage telling jokes for a private event. He said people in the audience “thought he would be more burned out” than he was. “People are disappointed you’re not a briquette.”
On keeping a sense of humor about it all and not complaining in public, Leno said, “In the real world… people who work with their hands get hurt every day. I don’t want to be a whiny celebrity. Oh, boohoo I don’t want to be one of these people “I have all these cars and this beautiful house and look what happened to me!” People say shut up!”
For the record, Leno isn’t afraid to get back under his cars, his old pastime. “No,” he replied. “Did I learn from this? Of course not.”
In Leno’s interview with People, he said that while his face was on fire, it felt “maybe like the most intense sunburn you’ve ever had, that would be fair to say.” He also said he knew he had to close his eyes and hold his breath before being pulled out from under the car because: “I’m not a panicked guy, but I knew if I inhaled I could scorch my lungs “I was under the car maybe 10 seconds before Dave pulled me out. I could have lost my eye longer than that.”
He also said that at no point did he refuse pain medication, joking, “The pain reminds me I’m an idiot!”
Leno also talked about all the love he received after the news broke. He received a call from President Biden. John Travolta sent him a “big Italian basket.” Tom Selleck sent flowers. Russell Crowe reached out from Australia.
“I’ve been in this industry for a long time and the feeling of love really touched me,” he told the outlet.