Joe Clark, the iconic principal of New Jersey’s Eastside High School portrayed by Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me, has died. he was 82 years old.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Clark’s family announced that Clark died Tuesday in Gainesville, Florida after a long illness.
Clark earned national fame as Eastside High School principal after expelling 300 students for varying offenses in one day in an effort to give the remaining students a chance to rise to the occasion. His method of conducting his school, which more than likely drew from his past experience as an Army drill instructor, continued building on the reputation he had earned as an educator who could turn around what people deemed as “problem schools.” Another school he helped change, according to The Hollywood Reporter, is New Jersey’s PS 6 Grammar School, a school his family later called the “Miracle of Carroll Street” thanks to Clark’s efforts.
Clark continued serving in education and student reform after retiring from Eastside High in 1989, including publishing a book called Laying Down the Law: Joe Clark’s Strategy for Saving Our Schools. Freeman’s portrayal of Clark in Lean on Me also debuted in 1989, making Clark one of the most beloved and quoted figures in Black cinema.