Joe Clark, the tough high school principal who inspired the hit 1989 film “Lean on Me,” has passed away at age 82.
In a statement from his family, the educator died Tuesday at his home after battling an undisclosed illness. The statement adds that he was surrounded by his loved ones at the time of his passing.
Born in Rochelle, Georgia, on May 8, 1938, Clark attended Newark Central High School and then received a bachelor’s degree from William Paterson College, now William Paterson University. He also obtained a master’s degree from Seton Hall University and an honorary doctorate from the U.S. Sports Academy.
After multiple positions in education, Clark became the principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, and was known for his unorthodox and tough methods of punishment.
Not only did he roam the hallways with a bullhorn and a baseball bat, but Clark once expelled 300 students in one day for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers, and drug possession.
Clark eventually gained nationwide attention and was featured on TV shows such as “60 Minutes” and “The Arsenio Hall Show,” as well as a 1988 cover of Time magazine.
In 1989, Morgan Freeman portrayed Clark in the movie “Lean on Me,” loosely based on Joe’s life.
That same year, Clark retired from Eastside High and then worked for six years as the director of Essex County Detention House, a juvenile detention center in Newark, New Jersey.
He also wrote “Laying Down the Law: Joe Clark’s Strategy for Saving Our Schools,” about his time at Eastside.
Clark is survived by his children Joetta, Hazel, and JJ, and grandchildren Talitha, Jorell, and Hazel.
He will be missed.