Wright’s death was announced on the Facebook page of the town of Montgomery, which reports on local news in the Hudson Valley. “Sam and his family have impacted countless Hudson Valley youth always inspiring them to reach higher and dig deeper to become the best version of themselves,” the post reads. “On top of his passion for the arts and his love for his family, Sam was most known for walking into a room and simply providing PURE JOY to those he interacted with. He loved to entertain, he loved to make people smile and laugh and he loved to love.” Wright’s daughter, Dee, confirmed the news of his passing, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “He was the brightest light.”
Wright, who was born in South Carolina, worked extensively on Broadway, including in productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Pippin. He earned Tony nominations for his roles as William Sheridan in The Tap Dance Kid (1983) as well as Mufasa in The Lion King (1997). In his most well-known role, Wright starred as Sebastian the crab in 1989’s The Little Mermaid, providing lead vocals for the Oscar-winning song “Under the Sea” and the Oscar-nominated “Kiss the Girl.” In addition to appearances on TV shows like Ball Four and All My Children, Wright played jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie in Clint Eastwood’s 1988 Charlie Parker biopic, Bird. Along with his wife, Wright co-founded the Hudson Valley Conservatory, a performing-arts school for children. He is survived by his wife, Amanda, and their children, Keely, Dee, and Sam.