As reported by Deadline, Broadway actor Samuel E. Wright—who originated the role of Mufasa in the stage version of The Lion King and provided the voice of Sebastian the crab in the iconic Disney animated class The Little Mermaid—has died. A cause of death has not been announced. Wright was 74.
Primarily a stage actor for most of his career, Wright was nominated for a Tony Award in 1984 for his work in The Tap Dance Kid and had appeared in a handful of TV shows before that in mostly small roles (other than a recurring gig on Enos in the early ‘80s). He appeared on All My Children, The Cosby Show, and Spenser: For Hire in that decade, but he became part of the extended Disney family when he played Sebastian in Ron Clements and John Musker’s The Little Mermaid in 1989.
Sebastian is the preeminent example of a certain kind of archetypal Disney character, specifically the stuffy, haggard assistant to an authority figure who initially stands in the way of the protagonist’s life-affirming adventure but eventually comes around to supporting them, as explicitly laid out in Sebastian’s two Little Mermaid songs: “Under The Sea,” which is about how much better life is down where it’s wetter, and “Kiss The Girl,” in which Sebastian encourages Prince Eric to quit stalling and just kiss Ariel so she can get her voice back. “Under The Sea,” as performed by Wright in the film, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Grammy Award for Best Song Written For Visual Media.
Post-The Little Mermaid, most of Wright’s film and TV credits are related to playing Sebastian in other Disney things, going on for decades and including the Little Mermaid TV show, the direct-to-video sequel, House Of Mouse, some Disney video games, and a direct-to-video prequel. His Disney connection also extended back to Broadway, where he originated the role of doomed patriarch Mufasa in the legendary Broadway version of The Lion King. He also played Kron in Disney’s oddly bold CG experiment Dinosaur, though the impact there was much smaller than The Little Mermaid and the Broadway version of The Lion King.