‘The Little Mermaid’: Honor Sebastian’s voice actor Samuel E. Wright
You may think you don’t know Samuel Wright, but you know Samuel Wright. Even if you haven’t seen Disney’s The Little Mermaid, odds are you’re familiar with Sebastian, the adorable Jamaican crab voiced by the actor. That’s right: Samuel Wright gave us those memorable renditions of “Under the Sea” & “Kiss the Girl” – staples of 90s kids’ Disney culture.
Now that you know who Samuel Wright is, pour one out for the man. The two-time Tony-nominated thespian has passed away at the age of seventy-four. Expect lots of Sebastian clips from The Little Mermaid to flood your social media accounts today. You might find yourself posting some on your own as well.
Devotin’ full time to floatin’
Some actors grow to have a complicated relationship with the iconic characters they portray. Many people don’t feel comfortable being primarily associated with just one of the many roles in their career. By all accounts, that wasn’t the case with Samuel Wright and Sebastian from The Little Mermaid. Wright seemed to fully embrace the awesomeness of voicing the popular singing crab.
The Little Mermaid first matched Sebastian the crab with Samuel Wright’s voice in 1989, but the actor came back to the role many times throughout the years. Sebastian was one of the main characters in The Little Mermaid animated series that ran from 1992 to 1994, and you bet Wright jumped at the opportunity to voice him again – in thirty-one episodes, to be exact.
Basically, anytime Disney had Sebastian pop up anywhere, whether it was related to The Little Mermaid or not, Samuel Wright lent his voice to the character. We’re talking about episodes of Raw Toonage, Disney’s House of Mouse, and Marsupilami. But also video games like Ariel the Little Mermaid, Ariel’s Story Studio, and Disney’s Arcade Frenzy. Sebastian got around, and so did the man doing his voice.
More than a crab
Now, don’t be fooled into thinking Samuel Wright’s acting career was limited to Sebastian gigs. The actor played a wide variety of parts in film, television, and on stage. In fact, instead of knowing him as Sebastian from The Little Mermaid, some people might know Wright from Clint Eastwood’s movie Bird, where he played jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.
More notoriously though, Samuel Wright was a key element in another Disney production. Wright played Mufasa in the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King – a performance that earned the actor one of his two Tony nominations. The other one was for his turn as William Sheridan in The Tap Dance Kid.
Samuel Wright spent almost three decades of his career on Broadway, but he wasn’t above having fun with pure commercial work. And we mean actual commercial work, as in: playing the purple bunch-of-grapes character in a series of Fruit of the Loom underwear advertisements. How’s that for a fun trivia factoid?
In the end, however, Sebastian the crab and The Little Mermaid were the cornerstone of Samuel Wright’s career, and he had absolutely no problem with that. In a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Wright candidly explained: “Maybe not every actor would say this, but if I didn’t want to be immortal, I wouldn’t be acting.” Given Sebastian’s transcendence in pop culture, it’s safe to say Wright achieved that goal.
That same Los Angeles Times article mentioned that Wright kept a collection of little red crabs at home. The actor shared that every time he walked past them, he’d genuflect and say “Thank you for the house, my kids’ education and the fact that we don’t have to eat cheese grits anymore.” Not that there’s anything wrong with cheese grits, but we get his point. And it’s adorable.
Samuel Wright is survived by his wife of almost forty-nine years, Amanda, and their children, Keely, Dee, and Sam.
Are you a big fan of The Little Mermaid and Sebastian? Do you have any favorite moments from Samuel Wright’s career? Let us know in the comments!