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Grammy and Emmy-winning actor and comedian Pat Carroll, who worked in television and onstage for decades before putting in one of the most iconic performances in animated movie history as Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, has died. This comes from Deadline which says she died at her home in Massachusetts this weekend while recovering from pneumonia. Carroll was 95.
Born in Louisiana in 1927, Carroll got her start as an actor in 1948’s Hometown Girl, working as a bit player with one-off roles in a handful of TV shows throughout the next few years like Goodyear Playhouse, General Electric Theater, and Studio 57. She won an Emmy for her work on sketch comedy show Caesar’s Hour (which won every major acting category at the 1957 Emmy Awards, a record that would stand for decades) and later had regular gigs on The Danny Thomas Show (a.k.a. Make Room For Daddy) and The Red Skelton Hour.
Later on, she appeared in Love, American Style, Busting Loose, and Laverne & Shirley. In the ‘70s, she also starred in the one-woman show Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, which was (obviously) based on the life of the literary icon. The recording of the show won her a Grammy Award in 1980 for Best Spoken Word, Documentary, Or Drama. Carroll began to do voice acting in the ‘80s, working on Galaxy High School, Yogi’s Treasure Hunt, Foofur, Pound Puppies, and the original English dub of My Neighbor Totoro.
After a year of struggles from Disney to try and find the right voice for the villain of Ron Clements and John Musker’s The Little Mermaid, Carroll was brought in to voice Ursula the sea witch and imbued the character with—as she had described it over the years—the energy of a Shakespearean actor crossed with a car salesman (the character’s look was famously inspired by drag performer Divine). Ursula’s song, “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” was the first musical number performed by a female Disney villain.
As is often the case with voice actors from the period known as the Disney Renaissance, Carroll returned to other Disney projects to play Ursula in TV appearances and sequels and spin-offs as recently as in a 2020 Wonderful World Of Mickey Mouse short. She also provided Ursula’s voice throughout the Kingdom Hearts video game series. Carroll also had a vocal cameo in Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure.
The Little Mermaid | Poor Unfortunate Souls | Disney Sing-Along