Arsenio Hall, a charismatic former comedian and amateur magician, became one of the titans of television talk in the early 1990s, when "The Arsenio Hall Show" briefly challenged the supremacy of Hall's idol, Johnny Carson.
Chosen in 1990 as the "TV Person of the Year" by TV Guide magazine, Hall was synonymous with cutting-edge television talk and one of the most prominent African Americans in Hollywood. Unlike other play-it-safe talk-show hosts, such as Carson, Hall was willing to court controversy and often did so with bold attacks on racism. He dared to book guests that other talk shows shunned, including rap and soul artists, and won over fans with his high energy and ready smile.
Hall's studio audiences became known for a distinctive alternative to applause: They would "bark" and pump their fists, a practice that soon became, as Hall put it, "a pop-culture stamp of approval." It got "so popular," he said at the time, "it's getting on people's nerves."
The son of a Baptist minister, Hall was born in 1956 in Cleveland and nurtured dreams of becoming a talk-show host. Teachers discouraged him because of his race. At Kent State University, he earned side money doing gigs at comedy clubs and moved to Los Angeles to pursue stand-up. Befriended by Eddie Murphy, Hall landed a role in the 1987 comedy "Coming to America" and eventually became a regular on Joan Rivers' talk program, "The Late Show," which he took over when Rivers left.
After "The Arsenio Hall Show" ended in 1994, Hall all but disappeared from public view.