Samuel E. Wright, the voice actor who played Sebastian in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” has passed away at age 74.
His daughter, Dee, told The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday, May 25, that after a three-year battle with prostate cancer, her father died peacefully in his sleep at his Walden, New York, home. Dee described her father as “the brightest light.”
Although Wright is mostly known for his role in the Disney flick, his acting career began nearly two decades before playing the character of the animated crab. He got his first role in 1971 in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and received his first Tony nomination in the Best Featured Actor in a Musical category for his portrayal of William in “The Tap Dance Kid.” He later joined the cast of “The Lion King” musical, taking on the prominent role of Mufasa, and scored his second Tony nomination in 1998 for that role.
Almost a decade before earning his second Tony nomination, Wright gave life to the beloved crab, who served as King Triton’s advisor in the children’s film “The Little Mermaid.” Utilizing his deep but jolly voice for the role, his character sang the well-known tune “Under the Sea” to convince the King’s daughter, Ariel, that “Life under the sea is better than anything they’ve got up there.” In the Best Original Song category, he won an Oscar for the song and received an Oscar nomination for “Kiss the Girl.”
In 2013, Wright told MadameNoire that when he was asked to play the role of Sebastian he “flipped out” because he “always wanted to work for Disney.” He later shared that Sebastian is not a “made up character,” adding, “He is me.” He explained that fans would hear the character in his voice and would point out that Williams resembles him as well. Williams agreed, saying, “and I do. Because Disney when they do an animated film, they film you, doing the work, and then they go away and then they draw what’s there. So they kind of morphe your expressions onto the drawing, which is why it’s such a classical piece of work because your work goes into the actual animation.”
Wright is being remembered by many on social media, including the companies for which he worked. “The Lion King – Musical” shared a photo of Wright on a screen in costume as Mufasa on a building in New York. The caption read, ‘Look at the stars. The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars.’ Rest In Peace, Samuel E. Wright | 1946 – 2021 Original Broadway Cast, Mufasa.”
Disney also took to Twitter, sharing a photo of a young Wright, along with a photo of Sebastian. Disney’s message reads, “We are saddened by the passing of Samuel E. Wright, who voiced Sebastian in The Little Mermaid. His iconic performance as Sebastian will always be remembered for the charm and heart Wright brought to every line and lyric.”