Joe Louis Clark, the Baseball Bat and Bullhorn-wielding Principal Who Inspired the 1989 Film “Lean on Me” has Died

Joe Louis Clark, the baseball bat and bullhorn-wielding principal who inspired the 1989 film “Lean on Me,” starring Morgan Freeman, has died. 

He died at his Florida home on Tuesday December 29, after a long battle with an unspecified illness, his family said in a 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 started teaching at a Paterson grade school in Essex County, N.J., before becoming principal of PS 6 Grammar 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 disciplinary 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” which was loosely based on Clark’s tenure at Eastside.

Principal Joe Clark who inspired film "Lean On Me" starring Morgan Freeman dies at the age of 82

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 served as a U.S. Army Reserve sergeant and a drill instructor. He retired to Gainesville, Florida.

Clark is survived by his children, Joetta, Hazel and JJ, and grandchildren, Talitha, Jorell and Hazel.