A roll call of the greatest comics that America has ever produced cannot be complete without the mention of the name Jay Leno. He hosted The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, establishing a reputation as one of the funniest men alive. He dominated late-night TV ratings for a long time and got inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 2014.
But it was not the only good thing that came out his illustrious comedy career. He also made a lot of money and married the love of his life, Mavis. As far as a successful and accomplished life goes, Jay Leno is an epitome, and here is the story of how he achieved it all.
Jay Leno Met His Wife in a Comedy Club
Following his graduation from college with a degree in speech therapy, Jay Leno decided to pursue a career in comedy. At the time, like every comedian, he hoped to find commercial breakthrough via the profession, and he did. What he probably didn’t expect was to meet the woman he would be with for more than four decades in a comedy club.
He met Mavis in 1976 at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles. She was in the audience, and like most people there, cracked up at his jokes.
But she was the one Leno noticed. One thing led to another, and they began a relationship, which led to marriage four years after in 1980. Interestingly, the events that led to their marriage was not a romantic affair. They got married to get Mavis on his insurance policy. Leno never got her an engagement ring, and their wedding was a small affair with a few friends in attendance.
The couple also does not have any children, a decision reached by his wife and supported by Leno. Mavis has always been anti-marriage and having children. And while Leno’s charm and kindness softened her stance on marriage, it did not change her position on having kids.
Regardless, their marriage has proven formidable. There hasn’t been a lick of scandal since Leno came into the spotlight. He finally got her an engagement ring years after their wedding, when he could afford it.
How He Has Stayed Married For So Long
For one, Jay Leno is an incredibly disciplined man. He doesn’t drink, smoke, nor gamble, and he doesn’t womanize either. That level of discipline has helped him overcome all forms of temptations, common to men of his status.
But if you were to ask Jay Leno himself, the secret to his long marriage to Mavis is “realizing there is nothing really worth fighting about.” The couple’s ability to resolve their differences and consistently stay on the same page has kept them going where many have failed.
Another reason is that Leno married his conscience. When the fame and success of his career threatened to carry him away, Mavis has been there to ground him and remind him of the person he is. It is a service Leno also renders to his wife, who is the chairwoman of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Campaign.
How Jay Leno Built His $450 Million Wealth
We touched on the discipline and focus of Jay Leno earlier and that, aside from his undeniable talent, best explains how he built his vast $450 million net worth. Although he is most known for his late-night host career, Leno started his career as a stand-up comedian. With it, he made a modest income and built a comfortable for himself.
Things, however, changed when he became the permanent host of The Tonight Show in 1992, after years of working and earning as a substitute for Johnny Carson. He earned $1 million in his first year as host of the NBC show. It rose to $10 million in 1999 and $20 million in 2002 before reaching a peak of $30 million a year in 2009.
His salary dropped to $15 million a year in 2012 when he took a 50% pay cut to keep his staff in their jobs and raise their wages. He earned a total of $320 million throughout his 22 years as a late-night host. Now, this is where his discipline and focus come in. Despite making episodes of The Tonight Show every weekday, Leno still maintained a very active stand-up career, performing up to 200 shows a year.
By doing so, Jay Leno made an extra $10 million per year. Jay Leno never touched his Tonight Show salary and lived only his stand-up income. Additionally, he did not have a manager nor an agent, thus keeping every penny he made, save for taxes.
Other Sources of Income
Beyond his Tonight Show income, which ended in 2014, Jay Leno has continued to earn from other works like Jay Leno’s Garage. It is a web and TV series where he reviews classic cars and motorcycles, supercars, restored cars, vintage, and sports cars. The show is a televised expression of the comedian’s hobby, car collection.
Other sources of income include scripted television. Jay Leno has a recurring role in Last Man Standing, Micky Mouse Mixed-Up Adventures, and The 7D. He has also made a series of one-off appearances in numerous films and TV shows and has more than 100 credits to his name.
How Jay Leno Spends His Money
Jay Leno is a passionate car collector. He owns at least 286 vehicles – consisting of 169 cars and 117 motorbikes. Among his collection are a sedan, a roadster, a Duesenberg Model X, and a 1963 Chrysler Turbine Cars. Leno got his love for cars at a very early age. While growing up in then-rural New England, he would come across spoilt and abandoned vehicles, lawnmowers and snowmobiles. At the age of 12, Jay stumbled upon a small abandoned vehicle. He got it running, and his mom allowed him to drive it.
Since then, the passion for vehicles has stuck. Leno’s car collection has an estimated value of over $100 million, and a majority of them are in a 122,000 square foot hangar in Burbank, California he owns. Speaking of his real estate properties, Jay Leno owns three homes.
The first, an oceanfront mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, is worth $13.5 million. He bought the property in 2017. It has twelve bedrooms and bathrooms, along with three half-baths. It also has an oceanfront pool and tennis court. Leno also owns two homes in his home state, California. Both properties, in Bel Air, were bought in 1987 and 1997. One of them is a five-bedroom property spread across 3,400 square feet of space.
For charity, he has donated more than $500,000 to charity. He and his wife donated $100,000 to the Feminist Majority Foundation. Jay Leno has also donated $100,000 to Salem State University, and he auctioned his Fiat 500 car for $385,000. The proceeds went to a charity providing temporary housing for wounded veterans.