Dwight Clark – The Former 49ers WR Dies
Clark died at his home in Whitefish, Mont., where he recently relocated from the Bay Area.
Dwight Clark, the receiver with movie-star looks and charisma whose iconic catch launched a San Francisco 49ers NFL dynasty, died Monday, less than two years after revealing he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 61.
The news was announced on Clark’s Twitter account by his wife, Kelly.
“I’m heartbroken to tell you that today I lost my best friend and husband,” she wrote. “He passed peacefully surrounded by many of the people he loved most. I am thankful for all of Dwight’s friends, teammates and 49ers fans who have sent their love during his battle with ALS.”
“For almost four decades, he served as a charismatic ambassador for our team and the Bay Area,” the 49ers said in a written statement. “Dwight’s personality and his sense of humor endeared him to everyone he came into contact with, even during his most trying times. The strength, perseverance and grace with which he battled ALS will long serve as an inspiration to so many.”
Clark, the dashing, 10th-round draft pick out of Clemson in 1979, was suddenly the toast of San Francisco. He was so popular that a developer paid him $15,000 a year — half of the receiver’s salary from the 49ers — to live in a luxurious condominium in the heart of the city.
“He had done this in L.A. with movie stars or whatever,” Clark recalled in January. “But he’s paying me 15 grand to live at 101 Lombard. I’m single, and the place had three levels. It was one-bedroom, the bed was at the bottom. The middle floor was the family room, kitchen and dining room. And the top was a roof that looked out over the Bay Bridge. It was unbelievable.”
Clark got a big pay raise after that season, just before NFL players went on strike in 1982. That led to a stretch Clark called “the most incredible 57 days of my life.”
“So, we play two games and then go on strike,” Clark said. “And I’ve got that place, money, notoriety and a Super Bowl ring. It was like being Huey Lewis.”
That was a far cry from Clark’s humble beginnings with the team, when Montana confused him for a kicker when they were introduced. It wasn’t long, though, until the quarterback determined the rookie receiver was remarkably sure-handed — even though Clark wasn’t confident he’d make the roster.
“Looking around the team, you could tell that he was probably as good as there was on that team at that point,” Montana told The Times in January. “But he never ever unpacked his bags. Every time the [team executive assigned to informing players they were cut] was coming around, Dwight would always put his playbook on the bed so he could get out of there. Because he knew he was going to get cut. I was like, ‘You’re never going to get cut. I don’t know what’s wrong with you.’”
Clark would go on to have a nine-year NFL career, all with the 49ers, and holds spots in the club record books with the fourth-most catches (506), third-most yards (6,750), sixth-most touchdown receptions (48) and third in consecutive games with a reception (105).
In a cruel twist, it was Clark’s hands that gave him the first hint of his ALS. Three years ago, they began to lose strength.
“I couldn’t tear open a package of sugar all of a sudden,” he said. “Then it kept getting weaker.”
Eventually, his legs followed suit. He needed a walker to go short distances, then was confined to a motorized wheelchair. He withered from his playing weight of 242 pounds to a gaunt 155 before regaining a bit with the help of a feeding tube.
Fueled by ample anecdotal evidence, researchers continue to look for a definitive link between brain injuries and ALS. Clark’s staggering medical costs were offset by what he received from the NFL concussion settlement, and from the support of former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who sent him to Japan where he could be treated with experimental drugs.
“There’s people coming up with stuff all the time,” Clark said in January at one of his many Tuesday lunches in Capitola, Calif., with various groupings of teammates, friends and reporters who covered him. “Somebody may stumble onto something. I don’t think it will be in time for me to use it.”
Born Jan. 8, 1957, in Kinston, N.C., Clark began his Clemson career as a safety and put up unremarkable numbers after switching to receiver. The 49ers discovered him by accident. Bill Walsh wanted to take a look at his roommate, quarterback Steve Fuller, and Clark picked up the phone when the legendary coach called. When Walsh asked Clark if he’d catch Fuller’s passes at a private workout, the receiver agreed.
“Dwight was like a brother to me,” former 49ers running back Roger Craig said Monday, speaking haltingly in an attempt to maintain his composure. “Taught me how to be a better receiver. He helped me a lot. He’s the most humble human being you’d ever want to meet, man. One of a kind.”
Clark is survived by his wife, Kelly, and three children from a previous marriage, daughter Casey and sons Riley and Mac. Information regarding services was not immediately known.
Overseeing the entire operation was Hall of Fame owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who released his own statement on Clark’s passing:
“My heart is broken. Today, I lost my little brother and one of my best friends. I cannot put into words how special Dwight was to me and to everyone his life touched. He was an amazing husband, father, grandfather, brother and a great friend and teammate. He showed tremendous courage and dignity in his battle with ALS and we hope there will soon be a cure for this horrendous disease.
“I will always remember Dwight the way he was — larger than life, handsome, charismatic and the one who could pull off wearing a fur coat at our Super Bowl parade. He was responsible for one of the most iconic plays in NFL history that began our run of Super Bowl championships, but to me, he will always be an extension of my family. I love him and will miss him terribly. Our hearts and prayers are with his wife Kelly, his children and the entire Clark family.”
Following his sterling career on the field, Clark worked his way through San Francisco’s front office, ultimately rising to general manager. He went on to become Director of Football Operations for the reconstituted Cleveland Browns from 1999-2002.
In a moving tribute to Clark’s legacy, NFL Network’s Michael Silver wrote last September that the former player and executive “carried an aura of awesomeness into his post-football existence: Handsome, charming and perpetually cheerful, the man lit up a room without acting as though he owned it.”
“More importantly,” Silver recalled, “Clark taught me that a man could live out a remarkable dream, emerge as a beloved icon for one of America’s most storied cities, receive the spoils that come with such a regal role — and never, ever act as though he were owed a morsel of it.”
I’m heartbroken to tell you that today I lost my best friend and husband. He passed peacefully surrounded by many of the people he loved most. I am thankful for all of Dwight’s friends, teammates and 49ers fans who have sent their love during his battle with ALS. Kelly Clark.
— Dwight Clark (@DwightC87) June 4, 2018
Clark had revealed his ALS diagnosis in March 2017, writing in a blog post that the first symptoms emerged in 2015, when he “started feeling weakness” in his left hand. “While I’m still trying to wrap my head around the challenge I will face with this disease over the coming years, the only thing I know is that I’m going to fight like hell and live every day to the fullest,” he said.
A native of North Carolina who posted modest statistics at Clemson, Clark was a 10th-round pick by the 49ers in 1979, their first year with coach Bill Walsh. Under the tutelage of the offensive innovator, and in partnership with Montana, who was a third-round pick in that draft, Clark quickly blossomed.
He caught 82 passes for 991 yards and eight touchdowns in 1980, then set career highs in receptions (85) and yards (1,105) the following season, as San Francisco emerged from years of futility to launch one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties. The 49ers would win five Super Bowl titles in a 14-year span, but they never would have gotten to the first one had Clark not soared high in the end zone to make a fingertip grab of Montana’s desperate heave in the closing moments of that 1982 showdown with the mighty Cowboys.
— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) June 5, 2018
“My heart is broken,” former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who presided over the team’s glory years, said in a statement. “Today, I lost my little brother and one of my best friends.
“I cannot put into words how special Dwight was to me and to everyone his life touched. He was an amazing husband, father, grandfather, brother and a great friend and teammate. He showed tremendous courage and dignity in his battle with ALS and we hope there will soon be a cure for this horrendous disease.
One of the most memorable plays in @NFLHistory.
Rest In Peace, Dwight Clark. pic.twitter.com/BhVwwv1xYR
— NFL (@NFL) June 4, 2018
“I will always remember Dwight the way he was — larger than life, handsome, charismatic and the only one who could pull off wearing a fur coat at our Super Bowl parade,” DeBartolo continued. “He was responsible for one of the most iconic plays in NFL history that began our run of Super Bowl championships, but to me, he will always be an extension of my family. I love him and will miss him terribly. Our hearts and prayers are with his wife Kelly, his children and the entire Clark family.”
Clark won a second Super Bowl title with the 49ers before retiring in 1987, after catching 506 passes for 6,750 yards — still third in San Francisco history, behind Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens — and 48 touchdowns, and being selected for two Pro Bowls. He went on to become the team’s president of football operations in 1998, then departed a year later for a three-year stint as the general manager of the Browns, who were returning to the NFL after a three-year absence.
Love you bro Dwight Clark!! RIP
— jerryrice (@JerryRice) June 4, 2018
“Really saddened by the loss of Dwight Clark,” veteran 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley said Monday on Twitter. “He was so much more than a football player. He was so kind and happy. Such a pure human spirit. Our hearts are with his family.”
In addition to his wife, Clark leaves behind three children from a previous marriage, as well as three grandchildren.
Source: washingtonpost.com, nfl.com, latimes.com