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Although he was something of a street punk and had a reputation of being somewhat difficult on film sets, Justin Pierce was a charismatic and solid screen presence, so his untimely suicide at age 25 left a void.
Born in London but raised in the Marble Hill section of the Bronx and in Washington Heights in Manhattan, Pierce went through a rebellious stage following his parents divorce in 1990, staying out all night, cutting school and shoplifting items like cigarettes and candy. After a time, he dropped out of high school, found a place a live and spent most of his time skateboarding. While engaging in his favorite pastime in NYC's Washington Square park, the attractive, dark-haired Pierce was spotted and offered the role of Casper in the controversial Larry Clark-directed drama "Kids" (1995). As the sidekick to Leo Fitzpatrick's Telly, the novice performer offered a fine supporting turn as an amoral teenager inhabiting a world where sex, violence and drug-taking are the norm.
When "Kids" was released amid a controversy over its rating by the MPAA, the cast members (including Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson) soon found themselves in demand. Pierce relocated to Los Angeles to concentrate on his burgeoning career. He soon landed a well-received supporting role in the HBO original "First Time Felon" (1997). NYC-based filmmaker Seth Zvi Rosenfeld tapped him to play the youthful incarnation of the leading character (essayed by Nick Chinlund) in "A Brother's Kiss" (also 1997). Pierce found work in Los Angeles in independent pictures like "Wild Horses" and "Too Pure" (both 1998) and "The Big Tease" (1999). The actor displayed his comedic abilities as the accident-prone Roach, one of Ice Cube's pals, in "Next Friday" (2000). He next portrayed a neighborhood thug in Rosenfeld's "King of the Jungle" (released theatrically in 2001).
Pierce stunned many of his friends and colleagues when he checked into a suite at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas and hanged himself. Enigmatic both on screen and off, Pierce had been dogged by rumors of drug use and he was said to occasionally disappear from film shoots, leading to a reputation of being somewhat difficult. Many felt his troubled upbringing and hardscrabble life had taken a toll on the young man's psyche, allowing him to be a powerful and natural performer but a troubled soul in his real life. Whatever the real reasons, Pierce's suicide cut short a very promising career.