Samuel E. Wright, known for voicing Ariel’s best friend Sebastian in the Disney animated classic The Little Mermaid, has died at age 74. The actor reportedly passed from his three-year long battle with prostate cancer.
The Township of Montgomery, Wright's hometown, announced the Oscar-winning actor’s passing in a Facebook post on Tuesday, May 25.
“Today, the Town of Montgomery mourns the loss of Sam Wright,” the tribute read. "Sam was an inspiration to us all and along with his family established the Hudson Valley Conservatory. 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. 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 the trusty crustacean sidekick Sebastian, with his vocals earning the flick two Academy Awards. The movie took home the trophies for Best Original Score and Best Original Song ("Under the Sea"). Another song that Wright lended his vocals to, "Kiss the Girl," was also nominated for Best Original Song. He reprised his role as the sassy crustacean in The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea and House of Mouse.
Not only was Wright known for his role in The Little Mermaid, he also was a stage actor for another classic Disney film turned Broadway show, The Lion King. Wright originated the role of Mufasa on the Great White Way when the show opened in 1997. That role landed him his second Tony nomination; his first nod came in 1984 for the musical The Tap Dance Kid.
Wright also ventured into more TV and film roles and notably played jazz star Dizzy Gillespie in Clint Eastwood’s Bird. He also guest starred on The Cosby Show, All My Children and Simon & Simon.
Heather Headley, who starred alongside Wright as Nala in The Lion King, posted a sweet tribute to her costar. "You may remember his beautiful voice as #Sebastian in #TheLittleMermaid, But He was our #Mufasa in @TheLionKing , and what a #king he was. And will always be. He Lives in Us...always! #SamWright," she wrote.
The New Amsterdam Theatre, where the long-running Broadway musical opened, also paid tribute to the actor on their marquee.The photo of the display was posted to Twitter and was captioned, “Look at the stars. The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars.”
In a 1991 interview with Los Angeles Times, Wright reflected on his career. “Maybe not every actor would say this, but if I didn’t want to be immortal, I wouldn’t be acting,” he told the publication. “I do want to make my little mark on the world."
Wright is survived by his wife, Amanda, and three children, Keely, Dee and Sam.