England-born, Bronx-raised actor and professional skateboarder Justin Pierce was discovered by filmmaker Larry Clark while skateboarding on the street of Manhattan. He soon made his film debut in the director's controversial teen drama film ''Kids'' (1995) and won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance for his portrayal as Casper, the foul-mouthed skater punk sidekick to Leo Fitzpatrick's lead character Telly.
The newcomer subsequently received a string of film roles and could be seen in "A Brother's Kiss" (1997), "Wild Horses" (1998), "Pigeonholed" (1999), "The Big Tease" (1999), "Next Friday" (2000), and "King of the Jungle" (2000). He also appeared in two episodes of the first season of FOX critically-acclaimed sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle."
The 25-year-old rising star, who had a reputation of being somewhat difficult on film sets but was powerful and natural while performing on screen, stunned his friends and colleagues in July 2000 when he committed suicide by hanging himself in a suite at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas. His final film, ''Looking for Leonard,'' was later released in 2002, two years after his death.
Before his death, Pierce was romantically linked to his "Kids" (1995) co-star actress Chloe Sevigny. Until his death in 2000, he was married to stylist Gina Rizzo, whom he married in July 1999 in Las Vegas.
Childhood and Family:
In London, England, UK, Justin Charles Pierce was born on March 21, 1975, to a Welsh mother and an American father. When he was around the age of three, Pierce followed his parents moving to the Marble Hill section of the Bronx in New York. And following his parents divorce when he was 15, Pierce began to go through a rebellious stage: hanging out all night, stealing and shoplifting, and skipping classes in favor of skateboarding. He eventually dropped out of high school and moved out, staying in a basement of a building with fellow skaters.
Pierce married stylist Gina Rizzo in July 1999 in Las Vegas. A year later on July 10, 2000, he was found dead hanging in his Las Vegas hotel room at the Bellagio by hotel security, reportedly leaving two suicide notes. The 25-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene on July 14, 2000. A Catholic service for Pierce was held at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in Manhattan's Little Italy on July 15, 2002.
From Skating to Acting
After leaving high school, Justin Pierce lived in a basement of a building with fellow skaters and spent most of his time skateboarding. And while doing his favorite activity in NYC's Washington Square park, the good-looking young man with dark hair was spotted by the filmmaker Larry Clark who later handed him a role in the director's controversial teen drama film, "Kids" (1995).
In the film about the life of a group of teenagers in New York City and their unrestrained behavior towards sex and drugs during the era of HIV in the mid 1990s, Pierce played Casper, the foul-mouthed skater punk sidekick to Leo Fitzpatrick's lead character Telly, an amoral, HIV-positive skateboarder sets out to deflower as many virgins as he can. The film also features Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson. Pierce's performance garnered positive reviews, winning him an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance.
Following his film debut, Pierce headed for Los Angeles to focus on his blossoming acting career. He immediately got a well-received supporting role in the HBO original movie "First Time Felon" (1997), which was inspired by the true story of small-time drug dealer and Vice Lords gang member Greg Yance (portrayed by Omar Epps).
That same year, Pierce was also directed by NYC-based filmmaker Seth Zvi Rosenfeld in his big screen version of his own play, "A Brother's Kiss," in which Pierce portrayed the youthful incarnation of the leading character (played by Nick Chinlund) who spent youth years in reformatory because of injustice.
In the subsequent years, Pierce appeared in a number of independent features, including Soleil Moon Frye and Meeno Peluce's "Wild Horses" (alongside Scott Caan and James Duval), Mary Kuryla's "Freak Weather," Galt Niederhoffer's "Myth America," and Sunmin Park's "Too Pure" (all four in 1998). He was also in Bojesse Christopher and Scott Leet's "Out in Fifty" (starring Mickey Rourke), Michael Swanhaus' "Pigeonholed" (as the son of Rosanna Arquette's character), and Kevin Allen's comedy "The Big Tease" (starring Craig Ferguson; all three in 1999).
Entering the new millennium, Pierce was tapped by Steve Carr in Ice Cube's comedy movie, "Next Friday," the 2000 sequel to "Friday" in which he delivered his comedic abilities as the accident-prone Roach, one of Ice Cube's pals. He then reteamed with Rosenfeld in his independent drama/thriller "King of the Jungle" (starring John Leguizamo; released theatrically in 2001), playing Lil' Mafia, and co-starred with Bokeem Woodbine playing two con-men who have hit rock bottom and attempted to blackmail a psychotic doctor who turned out to be a serial killer, in George Baluzy and Mike Baluzy's indie thriller, "BlackMale."
Meanwhile, TV viewers could catch him in the Gregg Araki-directed un-picked TV series pilot, "This Is How the World Ends" (2000), and in two episodes of the first season of FOX critically-acclaimed sitcom starring Frankie Muniz, "Malcolm in the Middle."
In July 2000, 25-year-old Pierce, who had been dogged by rumors of drug use, committed suicide by hanging himself in a suite at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas. His last film, ''Looking for Leonard,'' an independent drama/comedy by Matt Bissonnette and Steven Clark, was not released until 2002, two years after his death, because production had been halted due to lack of budget. Pierce's character Chevy subsequently disappears from the film with no explanation. The film also features Kim Huffman, Joel Bissonnette, Benjamin Ratner and Darcy Belsher.
Independent Spirit: Best Debut Performance, "Kids," 1996