In the years that followed, he kept a low profile. A sitcom came and went. He hosted "Star Search" for a season. He co-starred on a CBS drama "Martial Law" for a couple of years. Did standup.
He also devoted himself to his son, Arsenio Jr., now 13, whose mother is Hall's ex, former manager and down-the-street neighbor Cheryl Bonacci.
"I love being a dad," he said. "When kids got together at Chuck E. Cheese, there were a lot of mothers — and me."
But Hall yearned to return to late night. In June 2012 he announced it was happening.
"People say, 'How did you know when to do it?' Several times before I had tried!"
False starts included a meeting with studio bigwigs he skipped because his son was sick. Or the nail in a piece of sushi that broke his tooth the night before an all-important guest-hosting gig.
"Signs like that," Hall said, "seemed to mean I wasn't ready yet."
Now he's sure he's ready, whatever skeptics may say.
"I hear all the long-shot talk: 'This is an impossible thing to do after all this time. The field is so crowded.' But I still have to pursue my dream!"