Samuel E. Wright, Effervescent Voice of The Little Mermaid's Sebastian, Dead at 74

Samuel E. Wright arrives at the DVD launch of Walt Disney’s “Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning on August 23, 2008.
Samuel E. Wright arrives at the DVD launch of Walt Disney’s “Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning on August 23, 2008.
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez (Getty Images)

Samuel E. Wright, the beloved actor, primarily known for his unforgettable voice work portraying the stern crab in Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989) has died at the age of 74, Variety reports. The official page of Wright’s hometown, Montgomery, N.Y., confirmed the news on Tuesday. According to Deadline, Wright died of prostate cancer in his home in Walden, N.Y.

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“Today, the Town of Montgomery mourns the loss of Sam Wright,” the Facebook post read. “Sam was an inspiration to us all and along with his family established the Hudson Valley Conservatory. Sam and his family have impacted countless Hudson Valley youth always inspiring them to reach higher and dig deeper to become the best version of themselves. On top of his passion for the arts and his love for his family, Sam was most known for walking into a room and simply providing PURE JOY to those he interacted with. He loved to entertain, he loved to make people smile and laugh and he loved to love.”

Born November 20, 1946, Wright’s acting career spanned across film, TV and theatre.

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Variety provides a deeper look into Wright’s background:

Wright was born in Camden, S.C., eventually making his way into the entertainment industry when he landed on Broadway in the original 1971 cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. He went on to originate the roles of William in The Tap Dance Kid and Mufasa in The Lion King, both of which he was nominated for a Tony Award for best featured actor in a musical. In between, Wright made a slew of appearances on TV shows over the course of the ’70s and ’80s, which included his television debut on 1976’s Ball Four, All My Children and The Cosby Show.

Wright also portrayed jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie in Bird, the 1988 biographical film directed by Clint Eastwood, and he (along with family members) founded the Hudson Valley Conservatory, which became the region’s first performance arts school. In 1995, Wright also appeared in the Apollo Theater Revival of The Wiz, with co-stars Whitney Houston, Cedric the Entertainer and Keith David.

As for Wright’s most well-known role Sebastian—the Caribbean-accented crab whose presence meant fans would never be able to say the word “teenagers” the same ever again—the catchy song from The Little Mermaid that he sang lead vocals for, “Under the Sea” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1989 and the Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media in 1991. And of course, we can’t forget the animal theatrics of his lead voice work in the film’s song “Kiss the Girl.”

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More on Wright’s Disney legacy, via Deadline:

The role would stay with Wright for decades, as the actor voiced the jovial crustacean in sequels and spin-offs including the 1992-94 TV series, video shorts such as Sebastian’s Caribbean Jamboree (1991), Disney’s The Little Mermaid 2 (2000), House of Mouse (2001) and, his final credit, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning (2008).

In 2000, Wright voiced another Disney character for the live-action/computer-animated hybrid film Dinosaur. As Kron, Wright played against his friendly Sebastian demeanor to voice the imperialistic, unforgiving leader of the survivalist Iguanadon herd.

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Wright’s voice was the soundtrack of many people’s lives, and many took to Twitter to pay tribute to him.

Wright is survived by his wife Amanda and children Keely, Dee and Sam.

He will be forever missed and his unmatched work will live on. Rest in power, Samuel E. Wright.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

DISCUSSION

lordwhistledown
Lord Whistledown

I spent 30 years thinking that it was Geoffrey Holder, Baron Samedi from Live and Let Die and from those 7-up commercials, who voiced Sebastian the crab.