updated 12/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST
Mixing a wide-eyed awe of celebrities with a spicy street sensibility, Arsenio, 33, has turned his syndicated talk show into a cross-cultural encounter session. Where else can you find rapper Tone-Loc sharing a couch with Fergie's father? Or Bo Derek and Ursula Andress chatting amiably about a man they've both known in bed? Sure he strokes his guests with powder-puff questions, but isn't that the point? Everybody's relaxed. Add a backbeat and soon even the squarest viewers feel they're part of a TV version of Studio 54.
While getting a precocious start on his career by interviewing other kids in his basement when he was a child, Arsenio was warned that it couldn't be done. Cleveland ghetto kids do not become talk show hosts. He clung to his ambition, majoring in speech communication at Kent State, but even then, he recalls, "My guidance counselor was like, 'Come on, wake up!' My mom was even telling me I was crazy." How could they have guessed that in 1989 Arsenio, in $1,000 Italian suits, would be the one to finally give the MTV generation a reason to stay home at night?
Although his show has passed both Sajak and Letterman in the ratings, someday, Arsenio realizes, his rocket ride may end. But maybe not tomorrow, and maybe not soon. "If Johnny can have a party for 27 years," he says, "why can't I?"