Clark Middleton was not only a phenomenal actor but also a human being of indomitable spirit. The actor battled with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis from the early age of four, but unlike others who let the disease alter the course of their life, Middleton decided to learn how to live with it. In doing so, he was a shining example to the many who suffer from the disease and are unable to lead normal lives. After all, Middleton was an exceptionally talented actor with tremendous screen presence, especially when you consider his career was mostly limited to supporting roles.
Although Middleton has played several memorable roles over the years, including his stint as forensics tech Ellis on Law and Order, Ernie on Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Sydney on Birdman, and Painter on Snowpiercer, his most recent notable role was Glen on The Blacklist. On October 4, 2020, Clark Middleton died of complications from the West Nile Virus at the age of 63. Let’s look back on the actor’s personal and professional life and battle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
The Start of His Career
Clark Middleton was born on April 13, 1957, in Bristol, Tennessee. His acting career kicked off when he joined an acting class in junior college. At the time, he was based in Southern California and working at a car retailer and a Social Security office. In the acting class, his performance of a scene from the play �A Hatful of Rain’ was said to have been so moving that the audience was silent. In fact, it was so quiet that Middleton felt the lack of applause meant he had performed terribly, and he started tearing up. It was only when his teacher clarified that he was wonderful that he grasped the meaning behind the silence.
Thereafter, Middleton moved to New York City to pursue acting as a career. He enrolled in acting classes at Herbert Berghof and soon became a part of the local theatre scene. During his time in NYC, he stayed at modest accommodations in Hell’s Kitchen. Middleton’s efforts reaped benefits as he gained the opportunity to work with some very talented people in the industry and hone his skills. The Broadway star and Academy Award winner Geraldine Page became his guide, and under her mentorship, Middleton’s acting skills bloomed.
Soon, things became yet better, and Middleton was performing at La MaMa and the Public Theater, which afforded him chances to work with talented craftsmen such as John Guare and Sam Shepard. With his career taking off on the right path, Middleton moved to an Upper East Side apartment, where he would spend the next three decades.
While Middleton did fairly well in plays and small production, success on the large screen came to Middleton in the 2000s. It was at this time that he bagged roles in films and shows, including Sin City, Fringe, and Twin Peaks. This was also a good time for Middleton on the personal front. In 2006, he married actor Elissa Meyers, who was a familiar face in the theatre circuit.
Middleton also chose this phase of his life to become more involved with the Arthritis Foundation. He did splendidly as an advocate for living a full life even with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which was effortless for him since he truly believed in not letting the malady control what he could or could not achieve in life.
Clark Middleton shared a very special relationship with his father, Mel. In fact, he has often credited his success in pursuing a normal life and an acting career to Mel’s determination and effort. In several interviews, he has gone on to explain how Mel managed to raise two kids and provide medical care for Clarke, all while working two jobs and pushing Clarke to aim high in life and not let his malady cripple his dreams. Continue watching to know more about their journey together.
Before we move on, please take a moment to hit the like button and subscribe to our channel if you’re enjoying this video.
Middleton was only four when he was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and although he defied how much toll the disease took on his life, it wasn’t easy. The doctor who diagnosed Clark told his father Mel that he probably would not survive another winter. At the time, the Middletons lived in Louisville, Kentucky, and on hearing the prognosis, they packed their bags and moved to Tuscan, Arizona.
Clark Middleton even said he recalled the trip to Arizona in a �55 station wagon; his joints had swollen, and his father tried to drive slowly and use the break as sparingly and softly as possible to avoid causing him more pain. Mel had even created a bed on the back where Clark could rest for much of the journey.
While Arizona’s warmer weather did help some, there was more bad news around the corner. The Rheumatologist the Middletons consulted explained that Clark would most likely have to use a wheelchair throughout his life. Luckily for Clark, his father was determined and refused to take this answer. He told Clark that they wouldn’t lose hope and resign to fate. In many ways, Clark Middleton owed much of his determination and grit to his father, who instilled unfaltering perseverance in him from an early age.
Clark’s father, Mel, gave him the confidence to decide his own fate and live life on his own terms, which is something that stuck with him for the rest of his life. Not only that, but Mel also taught Clark that he had to work hard for whatever he wanted in life, and he couldn’t wait for handouts just because he was disabled. While the ideals did help Clark lead a much better life than could be expected for most in his position, arthritis still took a huge toll on his wellbeing.
Middleton was hospitalized several times during his childhood, and although his condition was somewhat manageable during the school years, some problems persisted. His neck, shoulders, and wrist joints had already fused. Over the later years, he underwent a total of 14 surgeries to replace 10 joints.
A Lifetime Member of the Actor’s Studio, Clark Middleton achieved significant professional success in his brief career. He debuted with the late Broadway star Geraldine Page and worked at several theatres in his younger years. The Public Theater, Shakespeare in the Park, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Denver Center are some of the theatres across the US where he performed. Naturally, he worked with quite a few outstanding playwrights during his heydays, including John Guare, William Leavengood, and John Belluso. Of all his performances and creations, Miracle Man is arguably the best one. Middleton drafted the one-person play Miracle Man based on his life and chose to keep it off-Broadway. He traveled around the country to perform the critically acclaimed play that was equally loved by audiences.
If you’ve ever seen Middleton on stage or screen, you would agree that the man has a tremendous screen presence. As an actor, he has the ultimate power to captivate audiences, even in supporting roles. While his skill itself is something to behold, it is yet more awe-inspiring when you consider that he had almost no neck movement. Even the rest of his joints did not consistently allow him free movement always.
Middleton’s physical limitations certainly limited the roles he was offered, which was all the more true at the beginning of his career. While he was skilled enough to pull off even the more challenging roles, casting teams remained hesitant – not because of his shortcomings, but because of viewer perception. Despite this, Middleton managed to deliver some fantastic performances in his brief career.
Some of Middleton’s most notable performances include Glen from The Blacklist, Edward Markham from Fringe, and other supporting roles in Law and Order, CSI: Las Vegas, Birdman, Twin Peaks, and Taking Woodstock. His role in the 2018 film Mortal Wounds got him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor – Short at the International Film Festival, USA, and won him the Jury Award at the Long Island International Film Expo.
Apart from acting, directing, and producing, Middleton also taught acting for more than two decades in NYC. He and his wife only moved to Los Angeles a couple of years ago, and once the COVID-19 outbreak had reached the west coast, Middleton refrained from going out at all, considering his already compromised immune system. Even then, he conducted acting classes virtually.
Earlier this year, Middleton woke up with a fever, and soon, his mental acuity was failing. He was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for two weeks, at the end of which he passed on. He reportedly died from Blue Nile Virus, a mosquito-borne disease that has no cure. The actor is survived by his wife Elissa, mother Sue, and brother Kirby.
Relationships With Friends
Middleton was commonly referred to as a kind, lively, jovial, generous, and gifted friend and colleague and a wonderful person all around. Those who had the opportunity to work with him say he was an incredibly talented actor and very passionate about the craft. Moreover, his perseverance to live on his own terms while defying juvenile rheumatoid arthritis made him a role model for the thousands who suffer from the malady.
His Relationship With His Father
In a 2017 interview with Absolute Music Chat, Clark Middleton spoke about his relationship with his father and the crucial role he played in shaping Clark’s life. He recollected how his father uprooted the entire family and moved to Arizona on hearing the doctor’s diagnosis, explaining how this was very courageous on his father’s part since this was not something common back then. He even fondly remembered how Mel made sure Clark had the best doctors by working two jobs to support the expenses. Mel was a high school shop teacher, and he managed to care for Clark while simultaneously raising his other son, Kirby.
One of Clark’s doctors even discharged him a week early from the hospital since he realized Mel’s firm determination was far more beneficial for Clark than the nurses’ coddling. With Clark’s condition, every time the joints would stiffen, he would need to muscle through the pain to regain motion, or the bones would fuse. The pain was excruciating, and while the nurses couldn’t bear to see Clark suffer repeatedly, Mel would make it a point to push him. Clark credited all that he could do and achieve in life and the quality of life he managed to retain for so long to his father. Mel passed away in early 2017, and Clark received the news while he was about to shoot for an episode of The Blacklist. While Clark knew Mel was ill, he wasn’t expecting his father to pass on so soon. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him.
Clark Middleton left a legacy few others can match. As an actor, director, writer, teacher, husband, friend, and advocate, the man successfully played many roles in his 63 years, without letting his physical disabilities limit him.
If you enjoyed watching, please hit the like button and subscribe to our channel for more interesting content. Also, don’t forget to hit the bell icon to stay updated with our latest videos.