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Samuel E. Wright, who voiced Sebastian the Crab in ‘The Little Mermaid,’ dies at 74

Samuel E. Wright smiles standing at a microphone
Samuel E. Wright speaks at a special screening of “The Little Mermaid” in New York in 2013.
(Cindy Ord / Getty Images)

Samuel E. Wright, known for his role as Sebastian the Crab in the 1989 Disney hit “The Little Mermaid” and sang the Oscar-winning song “Under the Sea,” has died at his home in Montgomery, N.Y.

The actor, who was 74, had been battling prostate cancer for several years, his daughter Dee told the Hollywood Reporter. His death was announced on the town of Montgomery’s Facebook page.

“The greater Town of Montgomery Community mourns together today,” it said. “As we say goodbye to a pillar in our community and ask everyone to share a memory and help us celebrate the life of this great man.”

Broadway also paid tribute to Wright. He was a member of the original cast of the stage production of “The Lion King.” A photo of Wright dressed as the character Mufasa was displayed on the marquee of the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway.

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But it was his performance in the animated classic “The Little Mermaid” that is perhaps his most iconic.

On top of his acting in the movie, Wright sang the song “Under the Sea,” which won the Academy Award for original song and also captured a Grammy.

Wright also sang the song “Kiss the Girl,” which was also nominated for an Oscar and Grammy.

“Sebastian has given me what I’ve always wanted as an actor, and that’s immortality,” Wright said in a 1991 interview with Entertainment Weekly. “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.”

He was nominated for two Tony Awards, in 1984 for “The Tap Dance Kid” and in 1998 for “The Lion King.”

In addition to those performances, Wright had other notable appearances on Broadway, including his debut in 1971 in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which came before he replaced Ben Vereen in the original production of “Pippin.” Wright also played the Scarecrow in a 1995 revival of “The Wiz” at the Apollo Theater alongside Whitney Houston, Keith David and Cedric the Entertainer.

Wright continued to act in movies and television from the 1970s through the early 2000s. He portrayed jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie in Clint Eastwood’s film “Bird,” and continued to return to the role of Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea” and his final role in 2008’s “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning.”

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While he made appearances on hit TV shows such as “Law & Order,” and “The Cosby Show,” Wright’s most memorable role on the small screen could be from a commercial. For more than a decade, Wright was a bundle of grapes in the Fruit of the Loom underwear ads..

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a cartoon, Dizzy Gillespie or Othello, I’m going to play it with the same fervor — just in case anybody’s watching,” Wright told the Los Angeles Times in 1991.

Wright is survived by his wife of 48 years, Amanda, along with children Keely, Dee and Sam, among other relatives.


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