Who Is Jay Leno's Wife? All About Mavis Leno

Jay Leno (L) and wife philantropist Mavis Leno attend the 7th Annual Eleanor Roosevelt Awards for Global Women's Rights at The Beverly Hills Hotel on April 26, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California
Jay Leno (L) and wife philantropist Mavis Leno attend the 7th Annual Eleanor Roosevelt Awards for Global Women's Rights at The Beverly Hills Hotel on April 26, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California

David Livingston/Getty

Jay Leno and Mavis Leno's love story started at a comedy club.

The former Tonight Show host met his wife after he performed at the iconic Comedy Store in the '70s. Jay admittedly "wasn't very good at dating" and Mavis didn't think she would ever walk down the aisle. However, that all changed when the pair met.

"I always had this idea that I would never get married," Mavis told PEOPLE in 1987. "But with Jay, I began to realize that this was the first time I was ever with someone where I had a perfect, calm sense of having arrived at my destination."

The couple tied the knot in 1980. Discussing the secret to their long-lasting marriage, Jay joked on PeopleTV, "Not screwing around is a huge key. You can do a lot. You can leave your underwear on the doorknob for the rest of your life if you don't screw around."

All jokes aside, Jay shared, "I always tell guys when they meet a woman, 'Marry your conscience. Marry someone who's the person you wish you could be and it works out okay.' "

In November 2022, Jay suffered severe burns to his face, chest and hand in a gasoline fire that broke out while he was working on a car in his garage. The TV host was rushed to the hospital and, according to his doctor, Mavis was "by his side" the entire time.

"[She is] obviously very concerned," Dr. Peter Grossman said during a press conference following the accident. "They have a very close relationship, and she's doing as well as you can expect a wife who is concerned about her husband."

Here's what to know about Jay Leno's wife, Mavis Leno.

She met Jay at a comedy club

Jay Leno and wife Mavis Nicholson Leno attend the taping of "The Merv Griffin Show" on September 26, 1979 at TAV Studios in Beverly Hills, California
Jay Leno and wife Mavis Nicholson Leno attend the taping of "The Merv Griffin Show" on September 26, 1979 at TAV Studios in Beverly Hills, California

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection

Mavis met her future husband at the Comedy Store, the famous comedy club in Los Angeles.

"It was in January — I don't remember the day. But at the time I thought, 'Holy s—! That comedian is gorgeous!' " she recalled in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "I had gone to the Comedy Store with my girlfriend because I was writing comedy with some partners. Friends kept saying, 'You have to hang out at the Comedy Store and the Improv. You'll meet people who can give you jobs.' The first time I went, they sat us front row center — that means you're this far from the comic. And there was Jay."

The pair's meet-cute happened after Jay's act. "I needed to go to the ladies' room. What I didn't know was in the Comedy Store back then, that area was the only place for the comedians to hang out," she recalled. "So when I came out of the bathroom, he said, 'Are you that girl in front?' And I said, 'Yes, that was me.' "

Jay once purchased her a blouse instead of a drink

Jay Leno and Mavis Nicholson during Poolside Cocktail Party for Kelly Klein's Book, "Pools" at Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA, United States
Jay Leno and Mavis Nicholson during Poolside Cocktail Party for Kelly Klein's Book, "Pools" at Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA, United States

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Because Jay doesn't drink, he once decided to give Mavis drink money to go shopping instead.

"I wasn't very good at dating," he told PEOPLE. "I don't drink. I never have. I remember once Mavis wanted a drink, and I said, 'Look, let me give you the money, and you can buy a blouse or something. I don't want to buy you a drink.' And so I gave her $35 and she bought a blouse."

Mavis admitted that she thought that was "absolutely peculiar."

She didn't think she would get married

Jay Leno and wife Mavis Leno on December 31, 1990
Jay Leno and wife Mavis Leno on December 31, 1990

Joseph Del Valle/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal

Prior to meeting Jay, Mavis did not believe she would one day walk down the aisle. "I always had this idea that I would never get married," she told PEOPLE in 1987. "It was a big thing with me, part of my vehement feminism. But with Jay, I began to realize that this was the first time I was ever with someone where I had a perfect, calm sense of having arrived at my destination."

When asked what changed her mind, Mavis said, "It was just that by the time we were together, I was 34 ... I was past it, although that was an important gesture for me to make — that I could live without being married."

Jay proposed without an engagement ring

Jay Leno & Wife Mavis during Benefit for the Women of Afghanistan - March 29, 1999 at The Directors Guild of America Theatre in Los Angeles, California, United States
Jay Leno & Wife Mavis during Benefit for the Women of Afghanistan - March 29, 1999 at The Directors Guild of America Theatre in Los Angeles, California, United States

SGranitz/WireImage

There was no ring involved when the Jay Leno's Garage star popped the question. "I think I said, 'Honey, I've got this insurance plan,' " Jay told PEOPLE.

He later explained to the L.A. Times that he wanted Mavis to be covered by his insurance in case something happened to him.

"I had this insurance policy, and I thought if something happened to me, my girlfriend wouldn't be covered, but if we're married, we're covered, so … we might as well get married. Not the most romantic. Mavis didn't even get an engagement ring until —" he said before Mavis interjected.

"He was going to get me one, but we had just bought a house, so why would I do that?" she said. "I'm not that kind of person." Although Jay didn't buy an engagement ring, he did purchase a diamond ring for Mavis later.

She was born on September 5

Jay Leno (R) and wife Mavis Leno attend the 2012 Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Sunset Tower on February 26, 2012 in West Hollywood, California
Jay Leno (R) and wife Mavis Leno attend the 2012 Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Sunset Tower on February 26, 2012 in West Hollywood, California

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Mavis shares the same birthday as some of her husband's exes. Speaking to the L.A. Times, Jay shared that he "probably lived with five women" and all of them were born on the same day.

"I can look at a woman and go, September 5. I don't know why that is. I don't look for a woman born on September 5, I just wind up attracted to them," he said.

Mavis remembered the TV star casually asking when her birthday was. "I said, 'September 5.' He started laughing. I remember it so clearly. I said, 'What?' And he said, 'Aw, nothing,' " she recalled.

She married Jay on a special date

Mavis Leno and Jay Leno during 39th Annual Emmy Awards - September 20, 1987 at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, United States
Mavis Leno and Jay Leno during 39th Annual Emmy Awards - September 20, 1987 at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, United States

Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection

The couple tied the knot in a "very small wedding" held at a friend's house on the same day as Jay's parents' wedding anniversary.

"I thought my mom would like that — November 3, 1980," Jay told the L.A. Times. Mavis noted that she was "crazy" about the comedian's parents.

She did not want to have children

Mavis Leno and Jay Leno during Jay Leno Recieves 2,156th Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California, United States
Mavis Leno and Jay Leno during Jay Leno Recieves 2,156th Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California, United States

Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection

Mavis told The Washington Post in 2014 that she "takes full credit for" her and Jay's decision to not have kids. Watching The Honeymooners as a girl influenced her. "I would see a young woman who was very attractive and a thousand times smarter, and she's living in this little tenement hovel with her husband, Ralph, and then this Ed Norton, who has an even hotter wife," she said. "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."

She continued, "I remember telling my mother when I was 7 or 8 that I was never going to get married or have children. To me, this is the way women get caught."

She is a board member of the Feminist Majority Foundation

Jay Leno watches as his wife Mavis speaks as supporters of women's rights and LGBT groups protest across from the Beverly Hills Hotel
Jay Leno watches as his wife Mavis speaks as supporters of women's rights and LGBT groups protest across from the Beverly Hills Hotel

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP

Mavis joined the Feminist Majority Foundation's board of directors in 1997 and is the chair of their campaign to stop gender apartheid in Afghanistan.

According to the foundation's website, she is "a leader in the effort to make the restoration of women's rights a non-negotiable element of a post-Taliban Afghanistan, and has been at the forefront of insuring that the plight of Afghan women is included in the world's reporting of the war in Afghanistan and that the women and girls of Afghanistan are not forgotten."

In 2009, she explained to the L.A.Times why she decided to be an advocate for Afghan women. "The Taliban was so egregious and so extreme that if women who were free to speak did not speak, we might as well say to the entire world, 'No matter what you do to women, no one cares, just go right ahead,' " she said. "I promised the Afghan women that I am not one of those Americans who has no attention span, and as long as this situation persists, I will be in there. Tenacity isn't just the most important thing, it's the only thing."

The first years of The Tonight Show were hard for her

Mavis Leno during an interview with host and husband Jay Leno on October 03, 2001
Mavis Leno during an interview with host and husband Jay Leno on October 03, 2001

Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal

She revealed to the L.A. Times in 2009 that she and Jay had had "difficult" periods in their relationship.

"When Jay got The Tonight Show, the first years were hard for me. All of a sudden, Jay had this day job, and every person on the planet was asking him for something," she recalled.

Mavis decided she would be the one who wouldn't ask for anything. "It gave him relief at home, but that can also feel like distance," she reflected. "I don't know if he was aware of it because he was so swamped by the job — just the time demands alone, and the pressure."

It took Mavis a while to adjust to Jay being so busy, but in the end, it made their relationship stronger. "However steadfast your feelings for each other, your life circumstances are going to go all over the place," she said. "We've been through the death of my parents and his and the loss of Jay's brother. We started off with not very much money, and now we have a lot. But we've stayed the same. The great thing about Jay is whatever he says, that's it. It's genuine."