“I’m heartbroken to tell you that today I lost my best friend and husband,” Kelly Clark 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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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