Joe Clark Dies: High School Principal Portrayed in ‘Lean on Me’ Was 82

Joe Clark and Morgan Freeman (Credit: Getty Images Handout and Warner Bros.)

Joe Clark, the no-nonsense high school principal who inspired the 1989 film Lean on Me, has died according to a statement released by his family. He was 82.

Clark passed away on Tuesday, Dec. 29, surrounded by family and friends after battling a long illness.

The manner in which Clark disciplined his students at Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, made headlines and was chronicled in the feature film starring Morgan Freeman.

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Clark, a former U.S. Army reserve sergeant and drill Instructor, was known for walking the halls of Eastside High with a baseball bat and a bullhorn to get students in line.

“In one day, he expelled 300 students for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers, and drug possession and lifted the expectations of those that remained, continually challenging them to perform better,” said the statement his family released.

In 1988, he was featured on the cover of Time with the headline “Is Getting Tough the Answer?” The magazine included a photo of Clark and his infamous baseball bat.

Due to his educational measures, President Ronald Reagan offered Clark a White House policy advisor position, which he declined due to his commitment to his students and local community.

Clark also wrote the book “Laying Down the Law: Joe Clark’s Strategy for Saving Our Schools” the same year Lean on Me was released.

The retired principal is survived by his wife, Gloria, who is also an educator, his two daughters Joetta Clark Diggs and Hazel Clark who were Olympians in track and field, and his son Joe Clark, Jr., an accomplished track trainer and director of track and field and cross country at Stanford University.