The Arthritis Foundation lost a fierce friend and advocate with the passing of Clark Middleton on Oct. 4 at age 63.
Actor Clark Middleton, of NBC’s “The Blacklist” and Showtime’s “Twin Peaks,” died on Oct. 4 in Los Angeles after contracting West Nile Virus, according to his wife Elissa.
Throughout his life, Clark never let pain and disability limit how he saw himself.
Clark was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (now called juvenile idiopathic arthritis) when he was 4 years old. He had an estimated 14 surgeries over the years. Like adult-onset arthritis, the condition causes swelling and inflammation of the joints and a great deal of pain. However, Clark considered himself lucky to have a father who would not allow him to think of himself as a victim.
“My dad instilled in me that I could define my own reality by how I thought about myself and how I carried myself,” said Clark.
Throughout his childhood, Clark spent months in recovery and couldn’t always attend school. His comfort was watching movies, and his love for the cinema eventually led him to sign up for drama classes.
Clark worked professionally as an actor for more than 30 years, but he also had his share of struggles trying to make a living as a young actor. He had to take other jobs, like teaching, to get by. What he learned is that he loved it. He taught acting classes and coached professional actors for more than two decades.
Clark Middleton, gifted actor, director and advocate for people with disabilities, touched our hearts and minds, leaving those in his presence feeling hopeful and inspired.
“I realized that acting was teaching me how to deal with my own self-identity. I was able to use the same tools that I use as an actor to help me engage the arthritis, to help me frame and change my thinking. That in itself has been very healing,” shared Clark.
He was a lifetime member of the Actors Studio and taught acting for more than 20 years in New York City. In 1997, Clark wrote the one-person play “Miracle Mile,” about his lifelong struggle with arthritis. He brought it to New York City and other parts of the United States. He made his Broadway debut in “The Iceman Cometh” in 2018.
Clark was just as passionate about his advocacy efforts. Following his beloved father’s advice, Middleton “made lemonade” and used his celebrity status to help kids with juvenile arthritis. Whether he was encouraging young people to go for their dreams, inspiring volunteers or advocating for people with disabilities, he left people in his presence feeling hopeful.
“Clark shared his journey at local and national Arthritis Foundation events,” remembers Kevin Purcell, Arthritis Foundation helpline specialist and National Gathering founder. “He was a joy to work with. No matter how busy he was, he always took time to chat. He encouraged us to strive for our best life and to love those special people in our lives.”
Clark’s story resonated with so many in the arthritis community, plus others challenged by disabilities. His legacy as a gifted actor, a teacher and a beloved husband, son and brother will carry on.
“Give the world your best and the best will come back to you,” Clark said, quoting his dad, Mel, who he credited for helping make his dreams come true.
By Lynn Parsons