Actor Samuel E. Wright, the voice of Sebastian in The Little Mermaid and co-founder of the Hudson Valley Conservatory performing arts school, has passed away at age 74.
The sad news was first shared in a post on the Town of Montgomery’s official Facebook page, which is the town over from Walden, New York, where the Hudson Valley Conservatory resides. The Hollywood Reporter later confirmed with his daughter, Dee, that Wright passed peacefully on Monday night from prostate cancer.
“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 Town of Montgomery statement 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.”
While Wright lived in Walden later on in life, he was born in Camden, South Carolina on Nov. 20, 1946. He started out his drama career on Broadway in 1971 and had roles in several productions including Jesus Christ Superstar and Two Gentlemen of Verona, as well as The Tap Dance Kid, for which he received a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Wright also received another Tony nomination in 1998 for playing Mufasa in the first Broadway run of The Lion King.
Wright’s best-known role, however, was voicing the gregarious crab Sebastian in Disney’s 1989 animated film, The Little Mermaid. As Sebastian, Wright sang the Academy Award-winning song, “Under the Sea,” and also came back to voice the lovable crab in numerous other Disney productions including The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, The House of Mouse TV series, and Ariel the Little Mermaid video games. His last credited role was again for Sebastian in the 2008 video, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning.
Another prominent role of Wright's was playing the dancing bunch of grapes in almost 50 Fruit of the Loom commercials over 19 years, all before he first auditioned to play Sebastian. "I take every role I get seriously, whether it's a crab or a grape," he said in a 1991 interview with Entertainment Weekly.
In addition to acting, Wright also co-founded Walden’s Hudson Valley Conservatory in 1994 with his wife, Amanda A. Wright, and Pamela A. Murphy. The school continues to offer classes in dance, music, and drama for kids as young as three years old.
Wright is survived by his wife of almost 49 years, Amanda, and their children, Keely, Dee, and Sam.