Fueled By Success: Fascinating Facts About Jay Leno

Jay Leno is one of America’s most famous entertainers, and the comedian has been making people laugh for decades. Even though he retired from the talk show business several years ago, Leno is still keeping busy and is rarely far from the spotlight.

While you may have watched him on television for years, there are some things that you may not know about Jay Leno. Read on to learn more about his love life, health problems, financial ingenuity, and more.

His Full Name Is James Douglas Muir Leno

James Douglas Muir Leno
Rick Diamond/Getty Images
Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Jay Leno’s birth name is James Douglas Muir Leno. He was born on April 28, 1950, in New Rochelle, New York. He was raised in Andover, Massachusetts, and he went to Andover High School. Andover is located just over 20 miles from Boston.

Leno also had a brother, Patrick, who was 10 years older than him. Patrick served in the Vietnam War and worked as an attorney before he died in 2002 at the age of 62 from complications related to cancer.

His Parents Are 100 Percent Scottish And Italian

His Parents Are 100 Percent Scottish And Italian
Paul Natkin/WireImage
Paul Natkin/WireImage

Leno’s mother, Catherine Muir Leno, was a homemaker. She was born in Greenock, Scotland, in the central lowlands and moved to the United States at the age of 11. She died in 1993 at the age of 82.

Leno’s father, Angelo, was born in New York. His parents were immigrants from Flumeri in the south of Italy. Angelo was an insurance salesman. He died at the age of 84, just one year after Catherine passed away.

He Obtained A Bachelor’s Degree In Speech Therapy & Then Went To Hollywood

Went To Hollywood
Ed Caraeff/Getty Images
Ed Caraeff/Getty Images

Leno attended Emerson College, a private institution, in Boston, in the early ’70s. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in speech therapy. While in college, he also started a comedy club. A few years later, he had some minor roles in several television programs, including Good Times, One Day at a Time, Laverne & Shirley, and Alice.

He made his first appearance on The Tonight Show on March 2, 1977. He also appeared in the films Almost Heaven, Polyester, and Collision Course, opposite Pat Morita from The Karate Kid.

He Was Homeless When He First Moved To Los Angeles

signing autographs
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

After graduating from college Leno decided he wanted to move to Los Angeles; however, he didn’t have a plan in place. He simply hopped on a plane. When he arrived, he would check out open houses and hide in the closet before the realtor locked the door, and that’s where he would stay.

“Sometimes I could stay in a house two to three days. I didn’t wreck anything. I did get picked up twice for vagrancy on Hollywood Boulevard,” he once explained in an interview.

His Prominent Jaw Is Due To A Medical Condition

Prominent Jaw Is Due To A Medical Condition
Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

One of Leno’s characteristic traits is his prominent jaw. He has a condition that is known as mandibular prognathism, which is essentially an extended or bulging jaw. It can be hereditary and/or develop over time. The condition occurs when the teeth are improperly aligned due to the shape of the facial bones.

In his book Leading With My Chin, Leno explained that there is a surgical fix to reset his mandible. However, he didn’t want to go through the extensive recovery that involves wiring his jaw shut.

He Never Spent His Tonight Show Income & Has Always Worked Two Jobs

Always Worked Two Jobs
Paul Natkin/Getty Images
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Leno has always been a hard worker and is very frugal with his paychecks. He once said in an interview, “I’ve always had two jobs, and I lived on one job and banked the other. All through The Tonight Show, I never touched a dime of my TV money because TV money is fleeting money.”

He added that comedians can always generate income. In college, he’d ask the bartender at a bar if he could tell some jokes, and that’s where he started earning cash for his humor.

He’s A Good Person To Ask For Financial Advice

on a motorcycle
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Leno’s penchant for saving money goes back to when he was a young man. He explained in an interview, “When I was younger, I would always save the money I made working at the car dealership and I would spend the money I made as a comedian.”

He continued, “When I started to get a bit famous, the money I was making as a comedian was way more than the money I was making at the car dealership, so I would bank that and spend the car dealership money.”

He’s Worth Around $400 Million

In front of a mansion
Robert R McElroy/Getty Images
Robert R McElroy/Getty Images

He hosted The Tonight Show from 1992 until 2014, taking over from Johnny Carson. The late-night program was very popular. It was the leader in ratings for years, with a nightly average of 5.7 million viewers, more than the Late Show with David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel Live!

As of 2019, Leno’s net worth was approximately $400 million, according to Earn the Necklace. As we mentioned previously, part of that is due to Leno being a compulsive saver.

He Is Dyslexic

With Mickey and Minnie
Robert R McElroy/Getty Images
Robert R McElroy/Getty Images

Two of the reasons why Leno is conservative with his money is because of his “depression-era parents” and because he grew up with dyslexia. He told CNBC, “When you put numbers in front of me, I’m all over the place. If there’s any risk, I’m not interested. My money goes straight to the hammock.”

His mother also instilled in him a hard work ethic. “My mother always said to me, since I was dyslexic, ‘You’re going to have to work twice as hard as the other kids to get the same thing.’ I said, ‘OK. That seems fair.’ And I did work twice as hard to get the same thing.”

He Took A Huge Pay Cut To Save Staff Jobs On The Tonight Show

With Steve Irwin
Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In 2012, Leno was at the height of his fame. Still, he took a 50-percent pay cut to prevent staff layoffs, according to the Wall Street Journal. We must note, however, that he still earned a whopping $15 million. “We managed to keep all our people and just spread the money around a bit,” Leno later told CNBC Make It.

He never regretted the decision. “We had a really loyal staff. We had the same people for 22 years—almost nobody left. I had the same writers, same producers, same talent coordinators.”

He Has Been Married To The Same Woman For Nearly 40 Years

Mavis Elizabeth Nicholson-Leno
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Leno and Mavis Leno tied the knot in 1980 and have been together ever since. Mavis Elizabeth Nicholson-Leno is a philanthropist and feminist. She is a strong force who prefers to be a little more low key than her high-profile husband.

She has chaired the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan since 1997. She also reportedly changed President Bill Clinton’s opinion about the oil company Unocal Corp. concerning the Taliban and how they treat women.

He Doesn’t Have Any Children

leno with wife
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Both Leno and his wife mutually agreed not to have children. During a 2014 interview with the Washington Post, Leno’s wife Mavis explained that she was turned off marriage and children after watching Ralph and Ed Norton on The Honeymooners as a kid. “These men spend all their time talking about what a drag the wives are and asking how can they get away from them.

“It’s perfectly obvious the women are the ones trapped. I remember telling my mother when I was seven or eight that I was never going to get married or have children. To me, this is the way women get caught.”

He Owns Over 300 Cars And Motorcycles

300 Cars And Motorcycles
Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images
Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

As of 2018, Leno estimated he owned about 181 cars and 160 motorcycles. He started getting interested in cars when he was around 11 or 12 years old after driving around an abandoned Renault in his backyard. “I never set out to collect cars. I just bought what I liked,” he told MSN.

“My three things are: It should be of technical and historical significance. It should be fun to drive. And it should be attractive to look at. If an automobile has those three qualifications, then it’s probably something that would be considered collectible.”

His Most Expensive Car Is Priceless

most expensive car
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Some of Leno’s cars are worth millions of dollars, and some are worth much less. One, in particular, is priceless. Leno once collaborated with General Motors to create the EcoJet, which was partially inspired by the 1963 Chrysler Turbine. The vehicle uses bio-diesel instead of regular fuel.

Leno and a tech designed the car themselves, and GM helped build the one-of-a-kind vehicle. Since it’s the only one on earth, and Leno didn’t buy it, the EcoJet is literally priceless.

He Hasn’t Sold Any Cars From His Collection, But He’s Donated Several To Charity

donating cars to charity
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Leno’s car collection was once valued at about $50 million. He doesn’t sell any of his cars, however, he has donated between 10-15 of them to charity. His garage is full of a variety of vehicles, from classic models to modern sports cars and super cars. You can see several of his vehicles on the CNBC show Jay Leno’s Garage.

Some of his vehicles include a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado, 1906 Stanley Steamer, 1986 Lamborghini Countach, 1994 McLaren F1, 1937 Fiat Topolino, 1955 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing Coupe, and a 1955 Buick Roadster.

He Doesn’t Take Vacations & Rarely Turns Down A Job

he doesn't take vacations
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Leno doesn’t take his fame or fortune for granted. But one of the things you will never see him splurge on is a vacation. “When you’re in show business, you get to go to vacation places,” he once explained in an interview. He said he’d rather spend his time on philanthropy.

He also doesn’t like turning down a job. “A job comes up, and I always feel like I was broke for so long, I never wanted to be in the position of, ‘Well, how much is that job? Oh no, I’m not…’ It just seems so presumptuous to turn down.”

He’ll Never Do An HBO Or Netflix Comedy Special

No HBO Or Netflix
Harry Langdon/Getty Images
Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Leno would much rather do a live show than a TV special. He likes writing jokes, telling jokes, and performing in front of a live audience. “I don’t do HBO or Netflix specials because I can make almost the same money doing a live show. Why not just do four or five live shows instead of giving something away on TV?” he said in an interview.

Leno added that he simply isn’t interested in doing a comedy special. “It just doesn’t appeal to me because once your joke is on TV, it disappears forever.”

He Sleeps Very Little & Doesn’t Drink Or Smoke

Leno reads on a plane
Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Leno is an extremely hard worker who reportedly only needs four to five hours of sleep a night. He also abstains from drinking, smoking, and gambling. His work ethic started when he was rising up the comedic ranks. He would wait for hours in line just to audition at a comedy club.

All that effort paid off. He told CNBC, “Never think you’re better, or, for any reason, smarter. Just keep working and plugging away.” He still hasn’t slowed down despite his massive success.

He Still Does Over 200 Live Performances A Year

 200 Live Performances A Year
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Just because he retired from The Tonight Show in 2014 doesn’t mean Leno has spent his time relaxing (and you already know he doesn’t take vacations). He is still actively involved in stand-up comedy. Each year he typically does about 200 live performances throughout the United States and Canada.

Leno also spends his time attending charity events and participating in USO tours to entertain service members around the world. And, as we mentioned previously, he’s the host of Jay Leno’s Garage. He also recently launched a car care line.

He Lives In A Grand Old Mansion

Leno home aerial view
Lila Delman Real Estate
Lila Delman Real Estate

Leno’s affection for historically significant things doesn’t end with cars. He also loves old mansions and lives in a gorgeous one located in Newport, Rhode Island. The house was an impulse buy, he told Architectural Digest in 2019. “My wife and I were driving on Ocean Drive and she said, ‘Look at that house!'”

The location makes sense since many people consider Newport to be the birthplace of motor racing. And Leno said he prefers it to California. “Here’s the thing. You don’t get water in California,” he said. “Not for anything less than $150 million.”