James Douglas Muir Leno was born on April 28, 1950 in New Rochelle, New York, the son of a Scottish mother and an Italian-American father. He grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, and graduated Emerson College with a degree in Speech Therapy in 1973. He began his career performing in nightclubs and bars and quickly became known for both his sincere work ethic and for his striking appearance, notably his large chin. He exhausted the nightclub circuit and then became known on night television, making a record number of appearances on “Late Night With David Letterman.” He became so popular that NBC executives made him the permanent guest host for “The Tonight Show” after Joan Rivers left that position.
Stand-up comedy is still his first love, even after 14 years as The Tonight Show host, and he often does weekend shows in Vegas after finishing his weekly production requirements. In 1992, Johnny Carson retired and Leno assumed his position, much to the chagrin of Letterman who had been considered as the heir apparent by many. Appearing on another network at the same time, Letterman sparked an ongoing rivalry between the two talk show hosts.
Although not considered an actor, Leno did appear in a number of movies (mostly unsuccessful). He was told once while auditioning that he had “a face that would scare children.” During the 1980s, he starred in a series of Doritos commercials, and before his post as Tonight Show host, most Americans knew his face from these advertisements.
An avid collector and restorer of cars and motorcycles, Jay Leno has become a cultural fixture whose face and name are a household word. In 2005, Leno appeared as a defense witness in the Michael Jackson child abuse trial. His wife, Mavis, is known for her work with Afghan women under the terrible yoke of the Taliban. The couple has no children.
One can only wonder if Ed McMahon will ever call out to an adoring public: “Here’s Jay!” Way to go, Jay!