16th June 2021
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Samuel Edward Wright The Little Mermaid Actor And Singer: A Tribute

Samuel Edward Wright The Little Mermaid Actor And Singer: A Tribute TheatreArtLife
By Michelle Sciarrotta

Samuel Edward Wright, best known for his role as Sebastian in the 1989 animated film The Little Mermaid, has sadly passed away at the age of 74. The actor and singer had been ill with prostate cancer for three years, and died peacefully in his sleep at his home in New York on 24 May 2021.

Career

Samuel E. Wright was an accomplished singer, and released a soul single with the Paramount music label in 1973 titled There’s Something Funny Going On. Wright managed to combine his talents of singing and acting with musical theatre, and worked extensively on Broadway: Samuel performed as part of the original cast in Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971, held the role of the Leading Player in Pippin in 1972 and Sam in Over Here!, starred in Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1971 and 1973, and the role of Mayor Joe Clark in the production of Mule Bone in 1991, all on Broadway.

As well as TV roles at this time, including a part in Jonny Zero, Wright went on to receive a 1984 Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical in The Tap Dance Kid as well as another for his role as the lead Mufasa in the original Broadway production of The Lion King in 1998. His other notable works included playing the Scarecrow in the 1995 Apollo Theater Revival of The Wiz alongside Whitney Houston, Keith David, and Cedric the Entertainer.

Wright featured in a number of films throughout his career, and played the role of Dizzy Gillespie in the 1988 film Bird, an American biographical film by Clint Eastwood that was a tribute to the life and music of jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker. Additionally, Samuel performed on TV regularly from 1976 – 2003 across a range of shows, undoubtedly demonstrating his versatility as an actor.

The Little Mermaid

It was the 1989 animation The Little Mermaid that first brought Samuel E. Wright into the homes of millennials around the world. His expressive delivery and distinctive voice as much-loved character Sebastian the crab gained the artist a new generation of fans and awards – the film’s song Under The Sea performed by Wright won an Oscar. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 1991 about the role of Sebastian, he explained:

“Sebastian has given me what I’ve always wanted as an actor, and that’s immortality. 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.”

Samuel E. Wright

Samuel E. Wright

Indeed, Wright will be remembered for the joy he has brought to youngsters since the 1980s, and additionally he has encouraged these and subsequent generations to express themselves artistically – Samuel, with his wife Amanda and Pamela A. Murphy, started a performing arts school ‘The Hudson Valley Conservatory’ (HVC) in 1994, which they describe as:

“A place for children to learn and grow in the arts. We pride ourselves on offering a well-rounded arts education and helping children develop not just as artists, but confident, competent young adults.”

Tributes

Since the sad news broke, there have been many moving tributes and messages.

The Hudson Valley Conservatory’s touching tribute noted the start of ‘The Samuel E. Wright Scholarship Fund’ to continue the work of their “beloved leader and mentor.”

The Lion King – Musical paid tribute outside their Broadway theatre with a moving banner and quote paying homage to the actor.

Daveed Diggs, who is cast to play Sebastian in the upcoming live action remake of The Little Mermaid, posted on Twitter, saying:

Samuel E. Wright spread art and joy to so many throughout his rich career, and he will be missed.

Samuel E. Wright

Samuel E. Wright

Also by Michelle Sciarrotta:

Accessibility At The Smith Center Series: Part One

James “Fitz” FitzSimmons Interview: The Boys In The Band On Netflix

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