Tough NJ principal Joe Clark, who inspired film ‘Lean on Me,’ dead at 82


Joe Clark, the baseball-bat wielding former New Jersey principal who was the inspiration for the 1989 movie “Lean on Me,” has died after a long battle with an unspecified illness, his family said Wednesday.

Clark was 82.

The long-time South Orange resident, who was played by Morgan Freeman in the hit movie he inspired, died Tuesday surrounded by his family in his retirement home in Gainesville, Florida, the family said.

The former Army reserve sergeant and drill instructor found notoriety for the tough discipline he instilled while principal of troubled Eastside High School in Paterson from 1983 to 1989.

He famously roamed the halls with a bullhorn and baseball bat, and once expelled 300 students in a single day for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers and drug possession.

It landed him on the cover of Time magazine in 1988 and even led to an offer to be part of Ronald Reagan’s administration as a policy advisor, which Clark declined.

The 1989 film that took inspiration from him grossed $31 million at the box office and was awarded outstanding motion picture at the 1989 NAACP Image Awards.

With Post wires

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