Morgan Freeman Mourns Death of ‘Father Figure’ Joe Clark, Whom He Portrayed in ‘Lean on Me’

by Matthew Wilson

Morgan Freeman remembers the life and legacy of Joe Clark. The actor described him as a father figure to many school-aged children. Clark, a beloved figure for many, passed away on Dec. 30 at age of 82. Freeman described him as the “best of the best.”

“Joe was a father figure to school kids,” Freeman told People. “He was the best of the best in terms of education.”

Freeman and Clark had a unique relationship, to say the least. The actor portrayed Clark on the silver screen in “Lean on Me,” a dramatization of his life. Clark was a principal at Eastside High School, an inner-city school in Paterson, New Jersey. As principal, he dedicated his life to helping his students and reforming the school.

He was also on set with Freeman to help the production of the film.

“He got up in front of the students and said, ‘You know, they’re going to be making the picture, and we are the stars. So let’s give them every help we can.’ And by George, that’s what they did,” Freeman recalled.

Joe Clark Leaves Behind a Lasting Legacy

Clark’s family confirmed his death in a statement that reflected on his career as a principal. Clark passed away at his home in Gainesville, Florida from an undisclosed illness. He was surrounded by family at the time of his passing.

“Roaming the hallways with a bullhorn and a baseball bat, Clark’s unorthodox methods won him both admirers and critics nationwide,” his family’s statement said. “Steadfast in his approach, 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.”

Clark also wrote a book called “Laying Down the Law” about his approach to higher education. Clark is survived by his family but also the various students he inspired over the years.