Car collector extraordinaire Jay Leno is no stranger to the inherent risks that come with working around vintage automobiles. But an accident on November 12, 2022, was one he called “bigger than most.” 

Cause of Leno’s Accident

The former “The Tonight Show” host was troubleshooting a fuel supply issue on his steam-powered 1907 White. Leno was underneath the car, helping colleague Dave Killackey with clearing a fuel line. As air entered the line, fuel sprayed Leno’s face and upper body and the car’s pilot light jumped to ignite. Killackey said Leno’s face was completely consumed in flames, but he was able to quickly smother them with a work shirt.

 “He downplays it, but it was horrific,” Killackey said. He called 911 and paramedics arrived, but 72–year-old Leno wanted to go home so his wife, Mavis, wouldn’t worry about him.

Severity of Injury

The incident left Leno with second-degree burns, but after nine days of care at the Grossman Burn Center, a skin graft and two surgeries, he is back to business and in good spirits. “I got wonderful cards and letters,” Leno said of his hospital stay during an interview with “Today.” Leno expressed gratitude for his care team by sending pizzas to the nurses.

Recovery Process

Of the damage, Leno said that his left ear had to be reconstructed. His recovery involved spending eight hours per day in a hyperbaric chamber that uses oxygen to accelerate the healing process. 

He says he learned from the experience, but it won’t keep him from continuing his collector-car passion — or his comedic demeanor. “People who work with their hands get injured every single day,” he said. In fact, if anything, Leno’s brush with fire gave him new stand-up material. “You have to laugh at it,” he said.

Making Light of It

“I never thought of myself as a roast comic,” Leno mused. Later he added, “The most expensive part of the experience was the gasoline. We’re in California, it’s seven bucks a gallon.”

Having met Leno during a taping of “Jay Leno’s Garage” in Burbank in early 2022, I can attest that his upbeat attitude is contagious. Even though he is considered a world-class celebrity, I found him to be approachable and humble during the several hours I got to hang out with him and Leno’s car collection of more than 200 vehicles.