Clark’s death was announced by his family, who said he died on Tuesday after a long illness.
Clark was the principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, N.J. from 1983 to 1989. Known for roaming the halls with a bullhorn and baseball bat, Clark was not afraid to enforce discipline upon his students. His unorthodox methodology drew both praise and criticism, landing him the cover of Time magazine in 1988 and even an offer to be part of Ronald Reagan’s administration as a policy advisor, which Clark declined.
The 1989 film “Lean on Me” was inspired by Clark, who was portrayed by Morgan Freeman. The film grossed $31 million at the box office and was awarded outstanding motion picture at the 1989 NAACP Image Awards. John Legend, Wendy Calhoun and LeBron James were also set to adapt “Lean on Me” for television in 2018, but the show was not picked up for a pilot.
Born in Rochelle, Ga. on May 8, 1938, Clark grew up in Newark, N.J. After graduating from Newark High School, Clark received a bachelor’s degree from William Paterson College, as well as a master’s degree from Seton Hall University and an honorary doctorate from the U.S. Sports Academy. Clark then became a U.S. Army reserve sergeant and drill instructor, which ingrained in him his passion for discipline.
Clark began his career in education as a grade school teacher, and then became a grammar school principal. But he found his true passion when he was appointed as the principal of Eastside High, and pledged to turn the school around. It is said that Clark expelled 300 students in one day for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers and drug possession. After word of his methodology spread, Clark appeared on “60 Minutes” and “The Arsenio Hall Show,” which led to his Time cover and “Lean on Me.”
Clark left Eastside in 1989 and worked as the director of a juvenile detention center in Newark for six years before retiring to Gainesville, Fla.
Clark is survived by his children, Joetta, Hazel and JJ, as well as his grandchildren, Talitha, Jorell and Hazel.