Former Tonight Show host Jay Leno proposed to his wife, Mavis, for a reason that was heartfelt but not particularly romantic. “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,” Jay said.

In the 43 years since, Jay, 73, has never stopped looking out for Mavis, 77. The comedian, who retired from his late-night TV gig in 2014, recently filed legal documents to become conservator for his wife, who suffers from dementia. “It’s a good thing he’s doing it now,” says LA-based psychiatrist Dr. Todd Hill, who does not treat Jay or Mavis. “He wants to not only be able to direct her care while he is still alive, but if something happens to him, he wants to make sure somebody he trusts will take over.”

Jay and Mavis met at LA’s famed Comedy Store. Seated in the front row with a female friend, Mavis recalled being impressed. “At the time, I thought, ‘Holy s–t! That comedian is gorgeous!’” said Mavis, who was just starting out as a comedy writer. The pair ran into each other backstage when she went to use the restroom. “I wasn’t very good at dating,” insisted Jay, who nonetheless asked Mavis out.

How Jay Leno Is Supporting Wife Mavis in Dementia Battle
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Marriage and children had never been Mavis’ plan for her future. “I always had this idea that I would never get married,” she said. “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.” The couple wed in 1980 during a small ceremony on November 3 — the same date that Jay’s parents had married.

They never had children, but their devotion to each other has remained unwavering through good times and bad. “We’ve been through the deaths of my parents and his and the loss of Jay’s brother,” said Mavis, who worked as an activist for women’s rights. “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.”

In Sickness and Health

A few years ago, Mavis began showing signs of memory loss. “It comes and goes. She’s not able to fully care for herself. She is very often forgetful, doesn’t recognize or remember close friends,” an insider tells Closer exclusively.

Jay oversees Mavis’ care, but then he experienced two freak accidents in two years. “My wife doesn’t drive anymore, and I didn’t want her stuck and not knowing what was going on,” he said, explaining why he went home to see her instead of immediately to the hospital after he was severely burned in a 2022 vehicle fire. The following year, Jay cracked his collarbone and sustained other bone fractures in a motorcycle mishap.

Recognizing his own mortality, Jay took action to protect Mavis in case he dies first. “That incident really scared him, not for his well-being, but for Mavis,” explains the insider, who adds that Jay is just being cautious. “Mavis is the love of his life. He adores her, he lives for her and will do whatever it takes to make her feel loved, comfortable and safe.”