Jay Leno is opening up for the first time about the terrifying fire that caused severe burns to his face, chest and hands.
The former “Tonight Show” host, 72, sat down with TODAY’s Hoda Kotb for an exclusive interview, airing in full Dec. 14. During the sit down, Leno relived the events leading up to the frightening fire, which happened Nov. 12 when he and his friend Dave Killackey worked on one of Leno’s beloved vintage cars in the garage of Leno’s Los Angeles area home.
“It was a 1907 White Steam Car,” recalled Leno. “The fuel line was clogged so I was underneath it. It sounded clogged and I said, ‘Blow some air through the line,’ and so he did.”
The fuel line made a noise, continued Leno, “And suddenly, boom, I got a face full of gas. And then the pilot light jumped and my face caught on fire.”
Leno credits Killackey for thinking fast and helping to smother the fire as it began to engulf the comedian’s body.
“And I said to my friend, I said, ‘Dave, I’m on fire.’ And Dave’s like, ‘All right.’ I said, ‘No, Dave, I’m on fire.’ And then, ‘Oh, my God.’ Dave, my friend, pulled me out and jumped on top of me and kind of smothered the fire,” Leno said.
Leno was rushed to the Grossman Burn Center in West Hills Hospital in Los Angeles where he was treated for third-degree burns over a 10-day stay.
On Nov. 16, the facility’s director. Dr. Peter Grossman, told NBC News that Leno suffered “relatively serious” burns to “approximately 7% of his body,” including his face, chest and hands.
Physicians added temporary skin grafts from “human cadaver skin” to the comedian’s body, Grossman explained. He speculated that physicians would likely follow up with more procedures in the operating room.
Although burn wounds are notoriously painful, Leno appeared to have a “very high pain threshold,” the doctor added.
“He’s also very stoic individual and he’s just not one who wants to complain,” Grossman said, describing Leno as “very gracious” and “very friendly.”
Leno was released from the facility on Nov. 21.
Leno confirmed that he had been injured in a fire in a statement on Nov. 14. “I got some serious burns from a gasoline fire,” he at the time. “I am OK. Just need a week or two to get back on my feet.”
Less than two weeks later, the beloved comedian performed an hourlong stand-up comedy set at a venue in Hermosa Beach, California, making fun of himself before he even stepped onstage.
“We got two shows tonight,” Leno told reporters outside, “Regular and extra crispy.”
Jay Leno’s full interview with Hoda Kotb airs Dec. 14 on TODAY.
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