By Noah Feit
From The State (Columbia, S.C.)
Samuel E. Wright, a Camden, South Carolina, native turned actor on stage and screen, has died.
The 74-year-old from the Midlands, who might be best know for his role as Sebastian the Crab in the 1989 Disney hit “The Little Mermaid,” died on Sunday in Montgomery, New York.
His daughter Dee said Wright died at home after a three-year battle with prostate cancer, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“He was the brightest light,” she said in the publication.
Wright’s adopted home in New York, where he founded a cultural center, also shared the sad news on Facebook.
“Today, the Town of Montgomery mourns the loss of Sam Wright,” the post said. “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.”
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 shown on the marquee of the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway.
But it was his performance in the animated classic “The Little Mermaid” that is perhaps his most iconic role.
On top of his acting in the movie, Wright sang the song “Under the Sea,” which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and also captured the Grammy for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television.
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. This is my mark.”
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,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. 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.”
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, syfy.com reported.
“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 said in a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times that was shared in his obituary.
Wright is survived by his wife of 48 years, Amanda, along with children Keely, Dee and Sam, among other relatives.
© 2021, The State (Columbia, S.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.