In his first interview since suffering major burns from a car fire while working in his garage, Jay Leno shared graphic details about the incident.
Leno and longtime friend David Killackey sat for an interview with “Today” co-anchor Hoda Kotb inside Leno’s Burbank garage, where Killackey witnessed the incident.
Leno, 72, joked his way through the segment. But Killackey was more blunt.
“It was horrific,” Killackey said. “It was a scary thing.”
Leno said he had been working to repair a clogged fuel line on his 1907 White steam car — one of many vintage cars in his collection — when gas shot out and ignited.
“And my face caught on fire,” Leno said.
Leno called out to Killackey, who ran over, grabbed him by the head, pulled him close to his chest and smothered the flames with his body, Killackey recalled. Leno interrupted the retelling with a joke about “a bad Tinder date.”
“He downplays it all, but I’m telling you, he was engulfed,” Killackey said. “I couldn’t see his face. It was a wall of fire.”
They said Leno ran over to a bathroom sink to run cold water on his face while Killackey put out the gasoline fire. When Killackey went to check on his friend, he said, he saw several layers of Leno’s skin peeling and immediately called 911.
“He asked me, ‘How do I look?’ I said, ‘Not good,’” Killackey recalled.
Burbank fire paramedics who responded to the garage told him he needed to go to a burn center right away. But Leno said he declined an ambulance ride to a hospital , and instead drove himself home.
“My wife doesn’t drive anymore, and I didn’t want her stuck,” Leno said of Mavis Leno, his wife of four decades. “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
Leno spent the next nine days hospitalized at the Grossman Burn Center in West Hills for treatment of burns to his face, chest and hands. While there, doctors scraped away layers of burned skin, and he spent eight hours a day in a hyperbaric chamber to aid the healing process. Leno called the chamber “a glass coffin” and joked about not being able to communicate with medical staff.
When Kotb asked him what was going through his head during his hospital stay, Leno said he was already rehearsing jokes for his stand-up act. Within days of his release in late November, Leno performed a set at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach.
For the “Today” interview, Leno brought with him a copy of the National Enquirer, which ran a cover story about the car fire. He held up the issue during the interview, poking fun at the headlines including one that called him “a human torch.”
“You have to laugh at it,” Leno told Kotb, shrugging. “It is kind of funny.”
Leno said he didn’t want to be a “whiny celebrity” with “all these cars, this beautiful house” complaining about what happened to him. He said people would just tell him, “Shut up!”
“In the real world, this happens to people every single day,” Leno said. “People who work with their hands get injured every single day.”
When Kotb asked whether he’d be more skittish around cars, Leno said no and added, “Did I learn from this?” He puckered his lips and blew, as if spitting spitting water while laughing. “Of course not,” he said.