With his infectious laughter, cool vibe and willingness to book unexpected guests, Arsenio Hall redefined everyone's idea of late night television. Starting his career as a stand-up comedian, Hall made a name for himself as Eddie Murphy's snobbish personal aide in the blockbuster comedy "Coming to America" (1988). He then amped up his star factor as a frequent guest host on the fledgling "The Late Show" (Fox, 1986-88) after its star, Joan Rivers, was fired from the program. In 1989, Hall took the late night show landscape and infused it with attitude as host of "The Arsenio Hall Show" (syndicated, 1989-1994). Unlike other play-it-safe late night talk shows, Hall's show was geared towards a younger, more urban audience. Thanks to his dynamic musical guests, unapologetic interviews, and his signature "Whoop, whoop, whoop!" fist pumping chant, Hall's show quickly rose to the top of the ratings game. Hall maintained a lower profile after his talk show went off the air in 1994 due to declining ratings. However, nearly 20 years after it first left the airwaves, "The Arsenio Hall Show" returned to late night in September 2013, proving the multi-talented funnyman was just getting started.
Arsenio Hall was born on Feb. 12, 1956 in Cleveland, Ohio. The son of a Baptist minister, Hall often tried to escape his depressed inner-city neighborhood by imagining that he was a talk show host like his idol, Johnny Carson. In junior high school, he became an amateur magician, leading to performing tricks in front of an audience. After graduating from Warrensville Heights High School in Warrensville, OH, Hall attended Ohio University in Athens to study law, but switched his major to communications. He later transferred to Kent State University, where he began performing at local comedy clubs to support himself through college. After graduating, Hall took his comedy act on the road before moving to Los Angeles. He had minor roles on a number of television shows and also voiced Winston Zeddemore, the smartest character on the animated series "The Real Ghost Busters" (ABC, 1986-1991). In 1988, Hall's career took off after he co-starred in the comedy "Coming to America" opposite Eddie Murphy as Prince Akeem, an African prince who goes to Queens, NY to pretend to live like a working man and find a wife who loves him for who he is.
Playing the role of Murphy's sidekick in the film proved to be one of the biggest career boosts for Hall. The two became friends shortly after Murphy relocated to Los Angeles. Hall took on a variety of roles in "Coming to America," most notably Semmi, the prince's personal aide who struggles to give up their life of luxury while in New York. The versatile comic also played Reverend Brown, a flamboyant minister that Hall seemingly modeled after his own father. Along with the success and newfound fame that he enjoyed after the release of "Coming to America," Hall also made headlines for dating pop sensation Paula Abdul, who featured Hall in her music video for "Straight Up" (1988). The couple reportedly met on the set of "Coming to America" and began dating a short time later. Years later in 2009, rumors swirled that the couple might have rekindled their romance. Hall reportedly contacted Abdul, who at the time had just quit her job as one of the judges on "American Idol" (Fox, 2002- ). Both neither denied nor confirmed such rumors.
In the early 1990s, Hall had become one of the most popular rotating guest hosts on Fox's "The Late Show" after host Joan Rivers was fired. His easygoing, playful, and edgy banter was a hit with audiences. Hall's frequent appearances and soaring popularity on "The Late Show" led to Hall's own late night talk show "The Arsenio Hall Show." He easily soared to the top of the ratings, thanks to his boundless energy, infectious laughter, and penchant for inviting musical guests who were popular with African-American audiences but might not have crossed over to the mainstream, particularly rap and alternative artists. Many considered Hall's talk show groundbreaking as it was the first time that a black host challenged and succeeded in drawing a significant portion of mostly young, often white viewers away from the late-night staple "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (NBC, 1962-1992). One of Hall's most notable guests was then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton, who made a surprise appearance on the show in 1992 and played "Heartbreak Hotel" (1956) on his tenor saxophone. Clinton's unexpected appearance on "Arsenio" was considered by many to have been a calculated move on Clinton's part to appeal to mostly twenty-something voters from just about every ethnic group. Coincidentally, Clinton's historic appearance on Hall's show marked a turning point in the popularity polls for the Democrat, whose approval ratings shot up in the wake of his charming visit.
At the height of his success, Hall was unstoppable. Night after night, he drew a young, hip audience whose often boisterous reaction to Hall's monologue was the host's infamous "Whoop, whoop, whoop!" chant, complete with fist-pumping. "The Arsenio Hall Show" peaked in popularity around 1991, then steadily lost steam. To stir things up, Hall initiated a rivalry between himself and Jay Leno after the latter was named host of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" (NBC, 1992-2014) by boasting to Entertainment Weekly that he would "kick Leno's ass" in the ratings game. Ironically, sagging ratings led to Hall's show being canceled in 1994, shortly after his headline-making boast. Aside from Leno, Hall also made enemies out of other celebrities including Roseanne Barr, whose unflattering paparazzi pictures were on full display on Hall's show. He also traded verbal blows with Madonna, who teased Hall on his show in 1990 about his failed relationship with Abdul. The pop icon also called Hall's hairstyle "tired" and suggested that he and Eddie Murphy were lovers. Hall retorted by insulting Madonna's jewelry and making suggestions that she was involved with lesbian comedian Sandra Bernhard.
Save a few television appearances, Hall all but disappeared from public view after his show ended in 1994. He reemerged to star on the short-lived sitcom "Arsenio" (ABC, 1997), where he played a sports cable show host and a newly married man with an opinionated wife (Vivica A. Fox). In 1998, Hall starred on the comedy-action series "Martial Law" (CBS, 1998-2000), about a Chinese police officer and martial arts expert named Sammo Law (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department. Hall played a wisecracking LAPD press liaison who started helping Sammo fight crime. In the 2000s, Hall's projects were mostly relegated to voiceover work in animated films like "The Proud Family Movie" (Disney Channel, 2005), "Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy!" (2006) and "Igor" (2008). He also briefly hosted the new "Star Search" (CBS, 2003-04), where he tried to popularize the catch phrase "Hit me with the digits!" In 2012, Hall appeared as one of the contestants on Donald Trump's reality competition series "Celebrity Apprentice" (NBC, 2004- ), where he was pitted against Lou Ferrigno, '80s pop singer Deborah Gibson, and comedian Adam Carolla, among others. After clashing several times with O'Day and making friends with singer Clay Aiken during the season, Hall ended up one of the two finalists, going head-to-head with his buddy Aiken for the win. In 2013 it was announced that Hall would be returning to late night as the host of a new late night talk show. A new syndicated version of "The Arsenio Hall Show" premiered on September 9, 2013, nearly 20 years after it first left the air.
By Candy Cuenco
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Special Thanks (Special)
Became interested in magic at age 7; later performed at birthday parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs; also led to an appearance on local TV special "The Magic of Christmas" (date approximate)
Moved to Chicago; switched to stand-up comedy
Hosted the short-lived ABC show "The Half Hour Comedy Hour"
Appeared on the NBC summer series "Motown Revue"
Guest starred on "New Love, American Style" (ABC)
Landed regular comedy spot on the syndicated pop music show "Solid Gold"
Made feature film debut in a segment of the comic anthology "Amazon Women on the Moon"
Hosted "The Late Show" for nearly three months (from mid-August through early November) after original host Joan Rivers left the program; based on his success, Paramount tried to convince him to appear on his own latenight talk show
Appeared as a guest on "The Tonight Show" on July 21; soon thereafter negotiated contract to star in and executive produce his own syndicated show
Cast as Eddie Murphy's sidekick in comedy feature "Coming to America"; also played several other roles
Hosted and executive produced late night talk and variety program "The Arsenio Hall Show" (Syndicated)
Re-teamed with writer, director, and star Murphy in "Harlem Nights"
First feature as an executive producer, "Bopha!"
Signed exclusive contract with Paramount which ran through 1995
Returned to TV as star of short-lived midseason replacement sitcom "Arsenio" (ABC)
Co-starred on CBS series "Martial Law"; first appeared in recurring role then eventually made into series regular
Hosted revamped "Star Search" (CBS)
Featured in the documentary "The Battle for Late Night"
Competed on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice"; won competition for his charity the Magic Johnson Foundation for AIDS and HIV research
A new version of "The Arsenio Hall Show" premieres