Joe Louis Clark, the baseball bat and bullhorn-wielding principal whose unwavering commitment to his students and uncompromising disciplinary methods inspired the 1989 film "Lean on Me," died at his Florida home on Tuesday after a long battle with an unspecified illness, his family said in statement. He was 82.
Born in Rochelle, Georgia, on May 8, 1938, Clark's family moved north to Newark, New Jersey, when he was 6 years old. After graduating from Newark Central High School, Clark received his bachelor's degree from William Paterson College (now William Paterson University), a master's degree from Seton Hall University, and an honorary doctorate from the U.S. Sports Academy. Clark also served as a U.S. Army Reserve sergeant and a drill instructor.
Clark started teaching at a Paterson grade school in Essex County, N.J., before becoming principal of PS 6 Grammar School.
He was later hired as principal of the crime and drug-ridden Eastside High School. In one day, he expelled 300 students for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers and drug possession, and lifted the expectations of those who remained, continually challenging them to perform better. Roaming the hallways with a bullhorn and a baseball bat, Clark's unorthodox methods won him both admirers and critics nationwide. President Ronald Reagan offered Clark a White House policy advisor position after his success at the high school.
Morgan Freeman starred as Clark in the 1989 film "Lean on Me" that was loosely based on Clark's tenure at Eastside.
After he retired from Eastside in 1989, Clark worked for six years as the director of Essex County Detention House, a juvenile detention center in Newark. He also wrote "Laying Down the Law: Joe Clark's Strategy for Saving Our Schools," detailing his methods for turning around Eastside High.
He retired to Gainesville, Florida.
Clark is survived by his children, Joetta, Hazel and JJ, and grandchildren, Talitha, Jorell and Hazel. His wife, Gloria, preceded him in death.
CBS New York reports Paterson Superintendent of Schools Eileen Shafer released the following statement:
"Joe Clark left his indelible mark on public education by being fiercely devoted to the students in his care. He demanded more from his students because he believed they could achieve more than what was expected of them. With his bullhorn and baseball bat, and Joe Clark courageously stood in the way of anyone who dared to try to lure a young person down the wrong path. Joe Clark was even the subject of a Hollywood movie. But in the end, it is the many lives Joe Clark influenced for the better that have become his greatest legacy. Our hearts are deeply saddened by Joe Clark's passing, and our prayers are with his family and friends."