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Samuel E. Wright, Voice Of Sebastian The Crab In 'The Little Mermaid,' Has Died

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Actor Samuel E. Wright, the voice of Sebastian the crab in Disney's "The Little Mermaid," has died. Wright was 74 and a stage veteran who had appeared in Broadway musicals and other films, as critic Bob Mondello remembers.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The one thing he wasn't was crabby. Sam Wright was by all accounts as much the life of the party off screen as he was as Ariel's trusty sidekick in "The Little Mermaid."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LITTLE MERMAID")

SAMUEL WRIGHT: (As Sebastian the crab) Ariel, listen to me. The human world, it's a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they got up there.

(Singing) The seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake.

MONDELLO: That accent was not his in real life. He grew up in South Carolina, but it was so right for Sebastian, the Little Mermaid's voice of reason, that it kept him busy for years in a sequel and video games, on the "House Of Mouse."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LITTLE MERMAID")

WRIGHT: (As Sebastian the crab, singing) Under the sea, under the sea. Darling, it's better down where its wetter. Take it from me.

MONDELLO: Wright was in his early 20s when he got his first role on Broadway - a bit part in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar." He went on to replace Ben Vereen in "Pippin" a few years later and then originated several roles, including one in "The Tap Dance Kid" that got him a Tony nomination. He also worked in TV and film. The year before "The Little Mermaid," Clint Eastwood cast him as jazz great Dizzy Gillespie in the Charlie Parker biopic "Bird." And a decade later when "The Lion King" went to Broadway, Wright was its Mufasa, reminding Simba of the ancestors who would protect him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "THE LION KING")

WRIGHT: (As Mufasa, singing) They live in you. They live in me. They're watching over everything we see.

MONDELLO: Another voice of reason for a youngster who needed it - Wright settled in the 1990s in Montgomery, N.Y., co-founding the Hudson Valley Conservatory there, a school for the performing arts. The town issued a statement today talking about Sam Wright's impact on local youth, always inspiring them to reach higher and dig deeper to become the best version of themselves. Movie audiences already knew that.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LITTLE MERMAID")

WRIGHT: (As Sebastian the crab, singing) Yeah, under the sea, under the sea. When the sardine begin the beguine, it's music to me. What do they got? A lot of sand. We got a hot crustacean band. Each little clam here know how to jam here under the sea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.