With his pointy jaw and clipped, rapid-fire delivery, comedian Jay Leno has become one of the richest and most popular late-night hosts in television history. The man who took over for the legendary Johnny Carson on NBC's venerable "The Tonight Show" has maintained the program's dominant spot in the ratings, despite the challenges of his rival, David Letterman.
Like Letterman, Leno is known for his biting quips and one-liners. Leno gained less-welcome notoriety recently when NBC gave him a prime-time program, "The Jay Leno Show," only to cancel it because of lackluster ratings. A major flap ensued when the network wanted to shift Leno back to his late-night spot, already filled by Conan O'Brien. Until NBC solved the mess by buying out O'Brien's contract—reportedly for $33 million—both Leno and O'Brien took verbal potshots at their own network on the air.
Leno, who took over for Carson in 1992, was a mediocre student in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he was born in 1950. An early report card noted, "If Jay spent as much time studying as he does trying to be a comedian, he'd be a big star." A victory in a senior-year talent show stirred his determination to do stand-up comedy, and he toured 300 nights a year in the 1980s.
During the writers strike that crippled television in 2007-2008, Leno wrote his own show monologues, angering some members of the Writers Guild of America. With a salary estimated at $32 million a year, Leno, who is married but without children, spends lavishly on his collection of exotic vehicles, which has grown to a fleet of nearly 200.