Joe Clark, the New Jersey Principal Whose Methods Were Memorialized in the 1989 Movie, ‘Lean on Me,’ Has Died At 82
Joe Louis Clark, the imposing principal who was the subject of a 1989 film that featured his disciplinary leadership benefitting the young children that attended his New Jersey high school, has died at the age of 82 according to his family.
Clark, who was portrayed by esteemed thespian Morgan Freeman in the 1989 movie, ‘Lean on Me’ was known for wielding a baseball bat and bullhorn throughout the halls of Paterson, New Jersey’s Eastside High School. His commitment to his students was well-noted when he became the principal of the notorious crime and drug-ridden institution.
Upon arriving at Eastside High, he had expelled 300 students for such activities as fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers, and drug possession. Those that remained at the school, were given high expectations as he continually challenged them to perform better. As the principal roamed the hallways with a bullhorn and a baseball bat, his unorthodox methods brought attention from admirers and critics nationwide.
Before drawing interest in having a movie made about him, President Reagan had offered Clark a White House policy advisor position. He declined the president’s offer to continue his dedication to his students. Clark had also appeared on programs including 60 Minutes and The Arsenio Hall Show and was even featured on the cover of Time Magazine.
He also penned the book, Laying Down the Law: Joe Clark’s Strategy for Saving Our Schools, which goes into detail about his methods for turning around Eastside High School and how they can be applied to combat crime, permissiveness, and academic decline in schools nationwide.
The longtime resident of South Orange, NJ, Clark had retired and moved down to Gainesville, Florida. He was at home and surrounded by his family when he succumbed to his long battle with illness on December 29, 2020. His wife, Gloria, had already passed when his death occurred. He does leave behind his children, Joetta, Hazel, and JJ, and grandchildren, Talitha, Jorell, and Hazel.