Jay Leno is back and feeling ready to talk about his shocking accident.
As you probably heard, the Tonight Show vet was involved in a fire in his famous Burbank car garage — and suffered third-degree burns on his face, chest, and hands. He’s lucky to be alive after the “bigger than most” accident, and he knows it!
In a new interview with People, one of the first since he was released from the Grossman Burn Center last month, he opened up about what it was really like to go through that.
First, he told the real story about what happened — which he didn’t feel like was accurately reported. He explained that he was working on his 1907 White Steam Car. He and friend Dave Killackey were trying to unclog a fuel line in the undercarriage of the century-old vehicle. He explained:
“With a steam car, you have gasoline, but you also have a vaporizer which is heated by a pilot light to turn water into steam,”
He had Dave push a little air into the fuel line to unclog it, which may have been a bad idea because of where Jay was standing. He “got a face full of gasoline” as he put it, and had just enough time to realize how much danger he was in:
“I knew how close I was to the pilot light and I thought ‘Uh oh.’”
Almost instantly a spark lit the gas — and the late night host — on fire. Explaining how it felt, Jay quipped:
“It felt exactly like my face was on fire.”
Seriously though, for those who haven’t had third degree burns, he could compare it to a really bad sunburn:
“Maybe like the most intense sunburn you’ve ever had, that’d be fair to say.”
Something tells us he’s still playing it down a bit. He’s a tough guy — and with a cool head, even when it’s on fire! He knew it was much safer to keep his eyes shut and his windpipe closed:
“I’m not a panicky guy, but I knew if I breathed in I could scorch my lungs.”
So instead, as he put it to Adam Carolla over the weekend, he calmly told his friend:
“Dave, I’m on fire.”
His pal understandably thought he was joking from how calmly he said it. But he was trying NOT to panic! Thankfully Dave snapped into action quickly — and got a bit of a burn on his own arm in the process. What a good friend! And fast, too! Jay told People:
“I was under the car maybe 10 seconds before Dave pulled me out. Any longer than that I could have lost my eye.”
He used Dave’s work shirt to smother the flames completely — but shockingly he didn’t think he needed to go to the hospital at first! He said he didn’t want to be a bother!
But when the paramedics from the Burbank Fire Department got there, they told him he absolutely needed the hospital. And the hospital told him he needed the burn center. He drove himself to the Grossman Burn Center, but when they wanted to admit him right away, he realized his wife hadn’t heard from him — and told them he needed to go home and talk to her first! All so she wouldn’t be worried! Awww!
We cannot believe he actually went home first! Thankfully he went back to the burn center and didn’t try to ignore it! See, a big part of trying to brush it off is that he didn’t know how bad it really was! Dr. Peter Grossman, the burn center’s namesake, told People it was even worse than it looked:
“When he came in, his burns were deeper than I anticipated. Jay is definitely an outlier in terms of how well he’s healed considering the severity of his injuries.”
It was serious alright. Jay required two skin grafts, one using the skin from pig intestines, the other from a human cadaver. And the whole time, over a week in the burn center, he requested no painkillers! Jay explained:
“The pain is a reminder that I’m an idiot!”
Well, that’s fair, we guess!
While we’re talking about learning lessons, the accident on the whole reminded him how much he was loved! Mavis, his wife of 42 years, slept beside him every night in the hyperbaric chamber of the burn center. And celebs he’s met over the years reached out, too:
“[John Travolta] sent me a big Italian basket, Tom Selleck sent flowers and Russell Crowe called from Australia. I’ve been in this business a long time and to feel that love was really touching.”
The other silver lining? He’s already back doing standup, and the audiences are happier to see him than ever! He joked:
“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.’ It was really fun to be back at work again.”
But just because everything is OK now doesn’t mean Jay didn’t learn his lesson. He said:
“I know how bad it could have been. But I’m okay. And I’m sure I’ll continue to do the same stupid things I’ve always done. Just maybe a little bit more carefully!”
So glad he was able to keep his sense of humor through all this!
[Image via Jay Leno’s Garage/YouTube.]