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In an interview with NBC News’ Hoda Kotb that aired on Wednesday’s Today show, the former Tonight Show host detailed his treatment and recovery from the fuel line incident in which his face caught on fire, as he continued to downplay and joke about what happened.
As revealed in a clip Tuesday night, Leno said he got a face full of gasoline that quickly caught on fire while he was working on one of his vintage cars. Luckily, his friend Dave Killackey, who was working on the car with him, helped put the fire out.
“I couldn’t even see his face. He downplays it all…it was a wall of fire,” Killackey said as he joined Leno and Kotb for the interview. “I grabbed him by the head and I pulled his head into my chest…started to smother the fire.”
As he was putting out the car fire, Killackey told Leno to put cold water on his face.
“It was horrific; it was a scary thing,” Killackey said. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out: call 911.”
When asked how Leno looked after the accident, Killackey said “horrible,” as he recalled seeing layers of Leno’s skin peeling off.
In a separate interview with People magazine, featuring photos and videos of Leno in his current condition, that published Tuesday night, the comedian described how he felt after the burn, calling it “like the most intense sunburn you’ve ever had.”
He also explained he closed his eyes and held his breath after his face caught fire.
“I’m not a panicky guy, but I knew if I breathed in I could scorch my lungs,” Leno 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.”
Doctors told Leno he needed to go straight to a burn center, but the former Tonight Show host drove himself home that night, worried about his wife.
“My wife doesn’t drive anymore and I didn’t want her stuck and not knowing what was going on,” Leno said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do and I think it was.”
Once he got to the burn center, Kotb explained, doctors scraped away layers of burned skin, but Leno never complained during the painful procedure, with Kotb later saying Leno told her he didn’t take any pain medication because he wanted to know when he was getting better.
He echoed this sentiment to People magazine, saying, “The pain is a reminder that I’m an idiot!”
People wrote that Leno had two skin-grafting surgeries, one with skin from a human cadaver and another from a pig intestine.
On Today, Leno detailed how he had some work done on his face, left ear and hands, saying the latter “got burned pretty badly.” During the treatment, Leno also had to spend eight hours a day in a hyperbaric chamber, which he called a “glass coffin,” joking about how he would tap on the glass to get people’s attention, with the oxygen helping him heal.
Leno’s doctor, Peter Grossman, called the comedian “definitely an outlier in terms of how well he’s healed considering the severity of his injuries.”
While he revealed how he looks now, Leno didn’t seem concerned about his appearance.
“When you look like me, you don’t really worry about what you look like,” he said. “Look if I’m George Clooney, it’s going to be a huge problem. … They said it would be all right. My attitude is I trust people who are the best to do what they have to do.”
He later quipped, “The fact that I have smooth skin, pouty lips and a tighter butt has nothing to do with the accident. That was all secondary.”
Leno continued to joke, “The most expensive part of the whole operation was the gasoline. We’re in California. It’s seven bucks a gallon.”
And he seemed amused that when he returned to the stand-up stage, the audience appeared to be disappointed that he wasn’t burned more.
On Today and in a recent essay for The Wall Street Journal, Leno downplayed what happened to him, saying injuries happen when you work with your hands and protesting that he doesn’t want to be a whiny celebrity.
As for whether he’s nervous to work on cars now, Leno said, “Did I learn from this? Of course not!”
Leno received cards and well wishes from famous figures including President Biden but seemed most touched, Kotb said, by the notes he received from random people he helped with car trouble.
Watch Leno’s full interview with Kotb below.
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