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Jay Leno Reveals Why He Refused Pain Medication After Being Burned in "Horrific" Accident

The comedian just gave his first interviews about the injuries he incurred.

Last month, comedian and talkshow host Jay Leno got into a terrible accident while working on one of his cars, which led to second-degree burns and two surgeries. But, judging by the first interviews the star has given about the scary experience, he hasn't let it get him down. Speaking to People and Today, Leno explained how he caught on fire, the treatments he received at the hospital, and why he decided against taking any form of pain medication. He also joked about the accident and confirmed that it won't keep him from his hobby. Read on to see what the 72-year-old had to say.

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Leno's accident happened when he was working on a very old car.

Jay Leno at the 20th Anniversary Gala to Celebrate Hudson River Park in 2018
Ron Adar / Shutterstock

Leno, who is an avid car collector and hosts the show Jay Leno's Garage, was working on a White steam car from 1907 when he was set on fire.

"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," Leno explained to People. He had been trying to unclog the fuel line when he "got a face full of gasoline." He added, "I knew how close I was to the pilot light and I thought, 'Uh oh.'"

He was right about the dangerous combination. Leno caught fire.

"I'm not a panicky guy, but I knew if I breathed in I could scorch my lungs," he continued. "I was under the car maybe 10 seconds before [friend] Dave Killackey pulled me out. Any longer than that I could have lost my eye."

Killackey said it was worse than Leno will admit.

Speaking to Today, Killackey said that he pulled Leno out from under the car and pulled his face into his shirt to put out the flames. "You couldn't even see his face. He downplays it. But I'm telling you he was really engulfed," Killackey recalled. "It was horrific. It was a scary thing."

Killackey said he called 911, but Leno ended up driving himself home to go tell his wife Mavis Leno what was going on before he went to the hospital. He had burns on his face, hands, chest, neck, and one of his arms.

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Leno would not take pain medication.

Jay Leno at a Jaguar car event in 2016
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Leno underwent two skin graft surgeries and spent eight hours a day in a hyperbaric chamber to treat his injuries. But, he declined pain medication. The comedian told People, "The pain is a reminder that I'm an idiot!"

Hoda Kotb, who interviewed Leno for Today, told her fellow anchors, "The guy said he didn't take a single pain pill. He said because he wanted to know when he was getting better."

When Tim Allen appeared on The Tonight Show on Nov. 21, he gave an update on his friend. When he called Leno to check on him, Leno said, "I'm not doing painkillers. Pain is there for a reason," the Home Improvement star remembered. "What do you say to that?" Allen continued. "'Okay, I think pain is there to tell you to take a painkiller.'"

He got back to work quickly.

Jay Leno at the Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special in 2017
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Two weeks after the accident, Leno was back on stage performing standup comedy. People reported that on Nov. 28, he joked to reporters at the venue, "I never thought of myself as a roast comic. We have two shows tonight—regular and extra crispy."

He also isn't letting the accident keep him from his passion for cars.

"I know how bad it could have been," he told People. "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!"

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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