Samuel E. Wright, the Tony-nominated actor and voice of Sebastian the Crab in 'The Little Mermaid,' has died at 74.

By Maureen Lee Lenker
May 26, 2021
Samuel E. Wright, the voice of Sebastian the Crab in 'The Little Mermaid,' has died at 74
Samuel E. Wright, the voice of Sebastian the Crab in 'The Little Mermaid,' has died at 74
| Credit: Craig Barritt/Getty Images; Everett Collection

Samuel E. Wright, the Tony-nominated actor best known for giving voice to Sebastian the Crab in Disney's The Little Mermaid, has died at 74.

His daughter Dee told the Hollywood Reporter he died Monday night at his home in Walden, N.Y., after a three-year battle with prostate cancer.

The neighboring town of Montgomery paid tribute to Wright, who helped establish the Hudson Valley Conservatory, on social media Tuesday. "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," a post on the town's Facebook page said. "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."

Wright voiced Sebastian in the original Little Mermaid film, which hit theaters in 1989, as well as the straight-to-video sequel The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, a prequel TV series, and other Disney shows like Marsupilami and House of Mouse. He voiced the character for the final time in another direct-to-video project, 2008's The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning. Wright also recorded several reggae-infused albums as Sebastian for Walt Disney Records, including one titled Party Gras!

As Sebastian, Wright famously performed "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl," the first of which won composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman the Oscar for Best Song.

"Sebastian has given me what I've always wanted as an actor," Wright told EW in 1991. "and that's immortality. I know a lot of actors are ashamed to say that, but as far as I'm concerned, that's why I'm in the business. I want the whole world to love me, remember me forever. Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing this. This is my mark."

A native of Camden, S.C., Wright got his start on Broadway, making his debut in 1971 in Jesus Christ Superstar. He went on to replace Ben Vereen as the Leading Player in the original production of Pippin. Wright earned two Tony nominations over the course of his career, the first in 1984 for The Tap Dance Kid and another for bringing to life another iconic Disney character, Mufasa, in the 1997 stage production of The Lion King.

One of his first major screen roles was as Washington Americans ballplayer C.B. "Cool Breeze" Travis opposite Jim Bouton on 1976 sitcom Ball Four. Other screen credits included Clint Eastwood's Bird, The Cosby Show, Law & Order, the Dukes of Hazzard spin-off Enos, and Disney's Dinosaur.

Wright is survived by his wife, Amanda, to whom he was married for nearly 49 years, and their children, Keely, Dee, and Sam.

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