Joe Clark, Principal Who Inspired ‘Lean On Me’ Film, Dies At 82
Joe Louis Clark, the New Jersey principal whose disciplinary methods inspired the movie Lean On Me, has died at his Florida home at the age of 82. Clark’s family revealed that he passed away on Tuesday after a long battle with an unspecified illness.
Clark gained national attention for his non-traditional methods of tending to the students of the crime and drug-ridden Eastside High School, roaming the hallways with a bullhorn and baseball bat.
Originally born in Georgia, Clark received his bachelor’s degree from William Paterson’s University, master’s degree from Seton Hall University, and an additional honorary doctorate from the U.S. Sports Academy. After teaching at an elementary school in New Jersey and spending time as principal of PS 6 Grammar School, Clark took over as principal of Eastside High School in New Jersey.
Clark’s use of the baseball bat was not as a weapon, but as a metaphor. He stated that students could either hit a home run or strike out. Clark gained attention from both critics and admirers, especially after expelling 300 students in one day, mostly for drug possession, fighting and abusing teachers. The remaining students were challenged to perform better or else they would be expelled, as well.
Clark’s work even captured the attention of then-President Ronald Reagan, who offered him a position as a White House policy advisor. His story was captured in the motion picture Lean On Me, in which he was portrayed by Morgan Freeman.
After stepping down as principal of Paterson High School in 1989, Clark became director of Essex County Detention House. He retired to Gainesville, Florida, where he spent the rest of his life.