Joe Clark, ‘Lean on Me’ High School Principal, Dies at 82

Morgan Freeman portrayed Clark in the memorable 1989 film

Joe Clark

Joe Clark, the New Jersey high school principal who was the subject of the 1989 biopic “Lean on Me,” died on Tuesday, his family announced. He was 82.

Clark passed away at his home in Gainesville, Florida after a long battle with illness, his family added.

His “uncompromising disciplinary methods,” as his family put it, at New Jersey’s Eastside High School inspired the 1989 film “Lean on Me,” starring Morgan Freeman as Clark. Freeman on the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Motion Picture for the role.

After college, Clark was a U.S. Army Reserve Sergeant and Drill Instructor before he began his nearly three-decades-long career in education. He began as a grade school teacher in Paterson, NJ and the Director of Camps and Playgrounds in Essex County, NJ before moving on to become principal of PS 6 Grammar School.

Clark would later become principal of Eastside High School where he famously began “roaming the hallways with a bullhorn and a baseball bat,” his family said. He retired from Eastside in 1989 and then worked for six years as the Director of Essex County Detention House, a juvenile detention center in Newark.

Joe Clark was predeceased by his wife Gloria and left behind his children, Joetta, Hazel, and JJ, and grandchildren, Talitha, Jorell, and Hazel.


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