Though Jay Leno has left the NBC late night TV program The Tonight Show for a life of retirement, at age 68 he has managed to amass a net worth of over $350 million. Leno was involved in a serious controversy over hosting The Tonight Show after the very popular host Johnny Carson retired. Initially the gig was given to Conan O’Brien, but then was unceremoniously dismissed from the spot by NBC executives in favor of Leno. That gig has been reported to be worth as much as $32 million a year.
Leno started out as a stand-up comedian working small clubs wherever he could pick up money, even if it was just $50 a night. As his popularity grew, so did his income, and he finally nabbed the spot on The Tonight Show. But he did not get an immediate payoff that would launch him to that lofty $350 million total. His 1992 salary was $1 million for the first year. Two years later that amount rose to $3 million. By 2010 that rose to $24 million.
Anyone who has followed Leno over the years knows of his love for cars – of all types. He is a serious collector and has just under 200 cars in his stable. What is unusual about his collection is that it is more about the type of the car rather than using it as an investment vehicle, since the total of those cars is an estimated $50 million. But that number is precarious as Leno himself doesn’t keep tabs on the total value of his collection. He said he bought a McLaren F1 in 1999 for $800,000. The last offer he got was for $17.5 million because there were only 64 of them built.
What is overlooked is that he also has a collection of more than 150 motorcycles. Also overlooked is that his most valued car is the 2006 Ecojet of which there is only one in existence. Leno owns it, and its value is priceless.
While there are many “How John Celebrity Got Their Net Worth” articles, Leno is definitely a rare case with his attitude towards money and work. Despite his estimated net worth, he says he is always looking for work; always living like he is on his last dime as he puts it. Rather than retiring in the most common use of the word, Leno continues to do everything from voiceovers to working at comedy clubs. Even while he was working on The Tonight Show he did about 150 one night comedy gigs that added between $15 and $20 million a year to his income. He also does some product endorsements which adds to his stack of money.
It would be great to list the value of each one of his cars and detail how much they are individually worth, but they only make up less than 14 percent of his total net worth. The truth is, for a Hollywood celebrity Leno doesn’t have many glamorous investments or sources of income except for his cars. The simple truth is he has always worked hard, and that hard work has paid off in cold cash.
He does own a home in Beverly Hills that is worth unknown millions and needs to have room for all those cars he bought. Actually, after taking some advice from friends, he bought a separate property in Burbank, California specifically to store all his cars. The reason was that he could work on them any time, day or night, without disturbing the neighbors. In December of last year he reportedly bought a 9 acre oceanfront estate in Rhode Island known as Seafair which he paid $13.5 million for. Though the reason is unknown, it may be that he will be moving away from California for tax reasons or safety reasons. It will be interesting to see how he moves all those cars cross country.
Unless you are as serious about cars as Leno is, his story of how he managed to accumulate a net worth of more than $350 million (and we think that is low) is simply the result of hard work and success. About $300 million of that value is from sources other than cars. Most of that $300 million he made as host of The Tonight Show for about 10 years. Not particularly exciting, but $350 million is $350 million.