Joe Clark, principal portrayed in ‘Lean on Me,’ dead at 82

The high school principal portrayed by Morgan Freeman in the film “Lean on Me” has died, Joe Clark’s family said in a statement Tuesday.

According to the family, he died at age 82 “surrounded by his family when he succumbed to his long battle with illness.”

The specific illness was not disclosed.

Clark was known for his disciplinary methods and no-nonsense demeanor. Roaming the halls with his baseball bat and bullhorn at Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, he once expelled 300 students in one day.

“Clark explained that the bat was not a weapon but a symbol of choice: a student could either strike out or hit a home run,” the family statement said.

Clark came to Eastside after working as a grade-school teacher and turning around a failing grammar school as principal. Before that, he graduated from Newark Central High School and William Paterson College -- which is now William Paterson University -- and served as a U.S. Army Reserve Sergeant and Drill Instructor.

Clark handling of the school’s violence, drug dealing, and low-test scores drew nationwide attention and had him at odds with parents of expelled students and the school board, Paterson Times reported.

The changes made to Eastside from his methods led to appearances on numerous talk shows, and most notably was portrayed by Morgan Freeman in “Lean On Me” in 1989.

That same year. Clark retired and went on to write the book “Laying Down the Law: Joe Clark’s Strategy for Saving Our Schools.”

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