Jay Leno is speaking publicly for the first time about the horrifying tragedy that occurred in his garage just over a month ago, which resulted in serious second-degree burns all over his face and upper torso, and he is doing so in an effort to shed light on the events of that day.
“When you work with cars, you have a lot of accidents,” admits the 72-year-old comedian, who spent nine days at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital recovering from his injuries and undergoing two skin graft surgeries. He also underwent two skin graft surgeries. “When you work with cars, you have a lot of accidents,” he says. “However, this is significantly larger than most.”
The day of November 12 started out as any other day as the host of Jay Leno’s Garage on CNBC and his lifelong friend Dave Killackey worked on clearing out a clogged fuel line in the undercarriage of a 1907 White Steam Car that was parked in the television host’s 140,000 square foot Burbank garage. An exclusive image of the pair’s work can be seen above.
Leno explains that a steam car uses gasoline, but also has a vaporizer that is heated by a pilot light to turn water into steam. “With a steam car, you also have a vaporizer,” he says.
Leno recounts that after a small amount of air was forced into the line in an effort to unclog it, he “got a face full of gasoline.” When I saw how near I was getting to the pilot light, my first thought was, “Oh no!”
Jay Leno jokes that his “brand new face” is “better than what was there before his accident,” referring to the scars on his face that were caused by the accident.
A spark immediately interacted with the gas, and the comedian’s face burst into flames as a result. He describes the sensation as “just as though my face was on fire.” To compare it to the most severe case of sunburn you’ve ever experienced would be an accurate description.
In spite of the shock, Leno was aware that he needed to close his eyes and hold his breath as he battled to come out from underneath the vehicle before Killackey assisted him in doing so. “I’m not the kind of man who gets easily scared, but I knew that if I breathed in, I could burn my lungs,” he adds. “It had been maybe 10 seconds since Dave dragged me out from under the car when he did it. If I had waited any longer, I might have permanently damaged my eye.”
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Leno smothered his face in Killackey’s work shirt until the flames subsided; within minutes, paramedics arrived, and by the next day, Leno had checked into The Grossman Center, where he was treated for burns across his face, neck, chest, hands, and left arm. Killackey was not injured in the incident.
Dr. Peter Grossman, who was Leno’s surgeon, said that the severity of Leno’s burns surprised him when he first saw him in the hospital. “Jay is obviously an exception in terms of how well he’s healed considering the severity of his injuries,” the doctor said. “Jay is definitely an outlier.”
Leno did not take any kind of pain medicine at any point during the show. He continues to insist that “the pain is a reminder that I’m an idiot!”
In the course of nine days, Leno underwent two skin grafting surgeries (one with human cadaver skin and another with pig intestine) to assist in the regeneration of new healthy skin, as well as sessions in hyperbaric chambers to assist in the oxygenation of tissue. During this time, Leno’s wife of 42 years, Mavis, slept beside him at The Center.
Well-known friends contacted out to offer their assistance. “I received a large Italian basket from Travolta, flowers from Tom Selleck, and a phone call from Russell Crowe while he was in Australia. I’ve worked in this industry for quite some time, and to experience love in the workplace was deeply moving.”
Leno was back onstage within six days of leaving the Center for the Performing Arts, this time performing stand-up comedy at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California. “It kind of gave my career a shot in the arm because it’s like, ‘Let’s go see him before he burns up again,'” quips Leno, who also returned to the garage shortly after the incident. “It’s like, ‘Let’s go see him before he burns up again.'” “It was a tonne of pleasure to get back into the swing of things at work.”
Now that Leno is making progress in his recovery, he says he is aware that the circumstances could have been a lot more serious.
Leno says, “I know how horrible it might have been.” “I know how bad it could have been.” “But I’m okay. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll keep doing the moronic things that I’ve always done. Just maybe go with a little bit more caution!”