Samuel E. Wright, best known for voicing Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid,” has died at 74. Although portraying the singing lobster in the beloved 1989 Disney film was Wright’s biggest claim to fame, he also appeared in numerous television shows and theatrical productions.
Wright’s hometown of Montgomery, New York shared the sad news in a Facebook post Tuesday, highlighting the actor’s impact on the community through both his performing arts conservatory and his own jubilant personality.
“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,” the post 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.”
Widely considered to be the film that kicked off Disney’s animation “renaissance” of the 1990s, “The Little Mermaid” was a smash hit, much due to catchy songs like “Kiss the Girl” and “Under the Sea,” which were performed by Wright. The latter even won him an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Wright would continue to lend his unmistakable voice to the Jamaican animated crab in sequels, TV shows, video games and more for years after.
Prior to his breakout role, Wright was a familiar face on television, appearing in “All My Children,” “The Cosby Show,” and “Simon & Simon.”
However, Wright’s passion was in the theater. He featured in productions of “Pippin” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the early 1970s before eventually parlaying his “Little Mermaid” success into a string of theatrical credits in the 90s: “Over Here!”, “The Tap Dance Kid,” “Welcome to the Club” and, in 1991, the hit Lincoln Center Theater production of “Mule Bone” by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston with music by Taj Mahal.
Wright wound up playing yet another Disney favorite. In 1997, he originated the role of Mufasa in the Broadway adaptation of “The Lion King.”
Twitter tributes have already begun pouring in for Wright, immortalizing the multitalented actor’s contributions to not just animation but childhoods the world over.