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Late Night Show Host Arsenio Hall Quit at the Peak of His Fame to Raise His Only Look-Alike Son

Bettina Dizon
Jul 19, 2021
05:45 P.M.
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Arsenio Hall loved being an entertainer more than anything, but when his son, Arsenio Jr., was born, he dropped everything to focus on fatherhood and become a hands-on dad.

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Arsenio Hall is a name many would never forget. Despite his 14-year hiatus from the Hollywood spotlight, his popularity amongst fans never wavered. So when he came back to reclaim his comedic stage, his audience was more than happy.

Entertaining people was what he wanted to do from the very beginning, but when his son was born, he decided to prioritize Arsenio Jr. Here's a glimpse into the star's life and career.

Arsenio Hall and Arsenio Hall Jr. attend the 'Mr. Church' premiere at Arclight Hollywood on September 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

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A FAMILY OF PREACHERS

Acting was not in Arsenio's DNA, but it was all he ever wanted to be. Growing up, his on-screen idols were the likes of Johnny Carson, Flip Wilson, and Dinah Shore. "I was watching anybody that talked," he said. "I knew what I wanted to do."

However, although his family was into conversing, it was never done on-screen. Arsenio came from a family of preachers, from his father to his uncle, even to his cousin. The "Coming to America" star shared:

"I remember my dad saying, 'Do you want to sit in the pulpit with me today?' That Sunday, I sat behind him, which is a whole different point of view."

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Arsenio Hall performs during KAABOO Del Mar at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on September 15, 2017 | Photo: Getty Images

DREAMING BIG

Arsenio had a goal – to be on "The Tonight Show," and not as a guest of Johnny, but in replacement of him. It was a long-shot dream at that time as no African-American man had been given a late-night talk show.

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When Arseiono Jr. turned 21 and graduated, Arsenio revealed that he couldn't wait to get back into the stand-up comedy circuit once all the pandemic restrictions were lifted.

"A white person successful in this town can focus in white culture, in white life, in white things, and never even care about [...] what's on the Jay-Z CD, and succeed. I have to know what Jay knows," he said.

Arsenio Hall during an interview on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," March 22, 2012 | Photo: Getty Images

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ARSENIO HALL'S RISE

Arsenio started his career as a stand-up comedian. His first television appearances were on "Soul Train" and the game shows "Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour," but his big break came after a 13-week run as the host on "The Late Show," following Joan Rivers' removal.

The actor's popularity grew even more, when he joined his longtime friend Eddie Murphy in the 1988 film "Coming to America," starring as Prince Akeem's loyal servant, Semmi. The following year, he had landed his very own late-night show— "The Arsenio Hall Show," syndicated by Paramount.

The show became a massive success, and Hall became known for his distinctive interviewing style and the fact that he invited people to his show that didn't have a space on late-night television before him.

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"Young people and people of color had been ignored [for] so long and had no vehicle," he told JET magazine in 1990. "Everybody from New Kids on the block to Bobby Brown had no late-night home. They had no place to do their thing."

There was no doubt that Arsenio brought pride to the black community and shed more light on the greatness of black people.

Arsenio's show brought several iconic moments, like President Bill Clinton playing the saxophone, Magic Johnson's first interview after revealing his AIDS diagnosis, and Michael Jackson's surprise appearance to present Eddie Murphy with an award.

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"THE ARSENIO HALL SHOW"

Still, behind the scenes, Arsenio felt pressure from critics and the producers of the show, who wanted him to be more conservative to appeal to a broader audience.

The show went on for five years before its cancellation in 1994. For the star, it was also the perfect opportunity to take a step back and search for balance in his life, as he explained years later to CBS:

"When you have that feeling of 'There's something else for me to do, and this is occupying your life 24/7,' wrong or right, you need to go."

Arsenio Hall and son Arsenio Hall Jr. at the 2009 BET Awards on June 28, 2009 | Photo: Getty Images

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ARSENIO HALL'S SON

During those years, Arsenio received his biggest life blessing when he became a father to Arsenio Hall Jr., whom he shares with his then-girlfriend. Although the romance did not last long, Arsenio never allowed that to step in the way of the relationship he wanted to have with the boy.

As a result, he put his career on hold to become a full-time father, making sure he was present in every milestone Arsenio Jr. had. His decision, as admitted, stemmed from his own experience with his father, who had little time to spare whenever he wasn't preaching at church. Arsenio said:

"I took a break to do something my dad wasn't able to do, be there for every moment. When God gives you that piece of paper, you have to decide what to do with it. I used mine to live a life of a single dad."

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LEAVING THE SCREEN

Early on, Arsenio promised he would not follow his dad's example if he ever had a child. "I was determined to be there for my son's first walk, talk, boo-boo, and whatever else. I didn't want to miss a thing," he wrote in an op-ed for Newsweek in 2012.

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He still did some projects to keep the money flowing, mainly voiceovers in animated series and some appearances here and there in late-night talk shows. Arsenio rejected many job opportunities because he didn't want to leave Arsenio Jr. for long periods.

However, his life during the hiatus was not perfect. He faced a paternity battle and asked for a restraining order against Cheryl Bonacci, who sued the actor for paternity and child support money.

Arsenio Hall at the Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation 9th Annual "Big Fighters, Big Cause" Charity event on May 23, 2018 in Santa Monica, California. | Photo: Getty Images

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According to Bonacci, Arsenio's past income should be considered as the basis for the support he gives. However, Arsenio believes otherwise, As he took lesser roles, his pay was not the same as during his prime, and thus, his support basis should follow.

It's no secret that Arsenio was among the most prolific and highest-grossing actors in America, and despite earning less, he never failed to give his son the best life possible.

Still, it was the boy, in 2012, who gave Hall the courage to make his big return to television through "The Celebrity Apprentice." The comedian recalled how Arsenio Jr. pushed him to accept the call. He became overwhelmed and began crying as he remembered his son's words of encouragement.

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BACK TO RECLAIM HIS SPOT

Arsenio admitted that he felt guilty when he was away from Arsenio Jr., but he made it up by winning the show's fifth season. The same year he won, Arsenio took advantage of the momentum and made his return to the late-night circuit with a revival of his talk show.

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His son was 12 at the time, but Arsenio didn't let him visit the set, or watch the show, because he considered that all the conversations and jokes were not apt for a child. Still, Arsenio Jr. was understanding about his dad's duties, as the comedian explained:

"Now I'm back, and I'm loving it. I wake up without an alarm clock to do late-night television, and my son understands that. He's my biggest supporter."

Arsenio Hall and son at the Premiere of "The Karate Kid" at the Mann Village Theatre on June 7, 2010 | Photo: Getty Images

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LIFE GOES ON

The second round of "The Arsenio Hall Show" wasn't as successful as the first one, and one year later, it was canceled once again. But luckily for Arsenio, work didn't stop. He made appearances in series like "Real Husbands of Hollywood" and "The Mayor" and also did a Netflix comedy special.

More recently, he reunited with Eddie Murphy for the sequel of "Coming to America," where they reprised their roles as Prince Akeem and his loyal assistant, Semmi.

When Arseiono Jr. turned 21 and graduated, Arsenio revealed that he couldn't wait to get back into the stand-up comedy circuit once all the pandemic restrictions were lifted. He still wants to make people laugh, even if he's all by himself and with no cameras around.

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BEING THE BEST ROLE MODEL

Arsenio has been the best father figure he could be to his son and worked hard to make a name for the black community. Previously, he aired his concern over "the diet of negative role models now. We will survive, we always have."

Not only has he been showing his son how to be proud of their color, but he has also been showing the black community the importance of being himself while being professional.

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