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.
Clark was 82.
The longtime 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.
“Rest In Peace Dad…. I am so grateful for your never ending love,” one of his daughters, former Olympic runner Hazel Clark, wrote on Twitter.
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 — getting him the nickname “Batman” — and once expelled 300 students in a single day for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers and drug possession.
Clark’s get-tough methodology soon saw him featured on “60 Minutes,” “The Arsenio Hall Show” and the cover of Time magazine in 1988.