In the early 1990s, well before cable, satellite and high-definition changed the way we watch television, late night talk shows fell into one of two categories: The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or Late Night with David Letterman. In other words, there wasn't much selection back then. No Jimmy Kimmel. No Craig Ferguson. No Chelsea Handler.
That is, until Arsenio Hall came along and changed for good the way we all watch talk shows.
Hall was born on Feb. 12, 1956, in Cleveland, Ohio. His father was a Baptist minister and his mother, a homemaker. He grew up in the sleepy suburb of Warrensville Heights, graduated from Warrensville Heights High School and eventually landed at Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio.
A performer since childhood, Hall made his way west after college graduation to pursue a career in entertainment. Once in Los Angeles, Hall turned to his natural comedic talent and kick-started a stand-up career. Success led to appearances on Soul Train and, eventually, as the announcer on the short-lived talk show, Thicke of the Night, with sit-com actor turned talk show host Alan Thicke. It was his first taste of the format.
But by the time the show ended, Hall's star was rising, especially since making friends with comedy legend Eddie Murphy. In the late 80s and early 90s, Hall would co-star with Murphy in two popular comedy films, Coming to America and Harlem Nights.
Talk Show Revolution
In 1986, the fledgling Fox Network decided to challenge The Tonight Show with a new talk show, The Late Show with Joan Rivers. A hit at first, the show faded quickly, and Rivers was fired from the program. Fox dropped Rivers' name from the title and introduced a number of guest hosts, including Hall.
Hall was by far the most popular and earned a permanent gig as host in 1987. Unfortunately, that wouldn't last. The Late Show was cancelled in 1987.
But Hall wasn't content to sit idly by. He'd gotten a taste of the talk show world and had something to contribute to the genre. So in 1989, he returned as host of The Arsenio Hall Show.
The Arsenio Hall Show
From the beginning, his show was different than The Tonight Show, soon to be hosted by Jay Leno, and Letterman. Sure, there was a monologue and a house band. But Hall shook up the set by forgoing a desk and adopting an open couch and side chair - informal and more at home, like his viewers tuning in. His monologue was more interactive and his manner smoother and more relaxed. The audience responded and the show was a hit.
The show hit its peak in 1992 when presidential nominee Bill Clinton made a guest appearance and played Heartbreak Hotel on the saxophone with the band. It solidified both the importance of the talk show circuit during a political campaign and made headlines for Hall all around the world.
Ratings began to decline, however, and Hall found himself at odds with the show's distributor, Paramount. After giving a full hour to controversial figure Louis Farrakhan, the show was cancelled.
Hall returned to comedy and eventually television in the one season sit-com, Arsenio, and a two season run on Martial Law as sidekick to martial artist Sammo Hung. He also hosted the re-imagined Star Search and kicked around as host of the America's Funniest Videos knock-off, The World's Funniest Moments.
- Rumor has it Hall began his college career at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where he competed on the debate team with Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson.
- He served as the original voice of Winston Zeddemore on the animated version of Ghostbusters.
- Dated pop star and X-Factor judge Paula Abdul.
- Released an album titled "Large & In Charge" as "Arsenio's little brother", Chunky A. The album featured rap legends Ice T and KRS-One.