The son of a Cleveland Baptist minister, African American entertainer Arsenio Hall would often escape his bleak inner-city surroundings by imagining that he was a talk show host like his idol, Johnny Carson. He emulated Carson to the point that he briefly became an amateur magician in junior high school. His friends and teachers laughed at Arsenio's comic patter, but advised him to forget his dream -- because everyone knew that no black man would ever host a talk show. An excellent student, Hall was accepted at Ohio University in Athens, where he originally intended to study law, but at the last moment followed his heart and switched to the communications department. He later transferred to Kent State, working his way through school with gigs at local comedy clubs. After a long upward climb, Hall was hired as the opening act for such entertainers as Dionne Warwick and Nancy Wilson, then moved to Hollywood, where he was befriended by superstar Eddie Murphy. The two comedians co-starred in the 1987 comedy Coming to America, where Hall was permitted to display his versatility in a wide variety of quickie characterizations (one of which, a flamboyant minister, was ostensibly based on his own father). Comedienne Joan Rivers was also fond of Arsenio, and secured him several guest spots on her Fox network gabfest, The Late Show. When Rivers was axed by Fox in 1987, Hall took over as Late Show host. This led to his most prestigious assignment to date: The Arsenio Hall Show, a latenight entry syndicated by Paramount television, which premiered in January of 1989. With his unbounded energy, his ingratiating smile, his trademarked "Whoop Whoop Whoop" and his willingness to book guests that were deemed "chancy" by others (e.g. rap and soul artists), Hall quickly rose to the top of the ratings heap. In June of 1990, TV Guide singled out Arsenio Hall as the magazine's first "TV Person of the Year." Unlike the play-safe Johnny Carson, Hall courted controversy as often as possible, usually by attacking racism -- sparing no one, not even other black entertainers. Hall's program peaked in popularity in 1991, then seemed to run out of gas. When NBC made its announcement early in 1992 that Jay Leno would be replacing Johnny Carson as host of the Tonight Show, Hall reacted with inexplicable hostility, railing against Leno (who had always regarded Hall as a friend) and declaring that The Arsenio Hall Show would "whip Jay's ass." While Leno's ratings trailed against his CBS rival David Letterman, his program easily trounced the flagging Arsenio Hall. In 1994, after five years, Arsenio Hall and Paramount Television parted company, and Hall kept a low profile, all but disappearing from public view. In March of 1997, Hall emerged from his self-imposed exile to star, opposite Vivica Fox, in the ABC sitcom Arsenio as Michael Atwood, a cable network sportscaster in Atlanta. After that short-lived series left the air, Hall again disappeared from screens for a period of years. He could be seen in 2003 taking over for Ed McMahon as the host of a relaunched version of Star Search, and he provided a voice for the animated film Igor in 2008. The next year he appeared in the blaxploitation martial-arts comedy Black Dynamite.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Big comedic break came in 1979, when vocalist Nancy Wilson hired him to host one of her shows in Chicago and ended up keeping him as a regular.
- Made major career move in 1987 by becoming one of many rotating hosts for Fox's Late Show, after original host Joan Rivers left the program, and staying on for a 13-week stint.
- Hosted and produced Fox's late-night talk show, The Arsenio Hall Show, starting in 1989; it ran for five years.
- Released an album in 1989 called Chunky A: Large and in Charge.
- Made a return to the small screen in 1997 in the ABC comedy Arsenio.
- Hosted an updated version of Star Search in 2003 on CBS.
- Won the fifth season of The Celebrity Apprentice, playing for the Magic Johnson Foundation.