Roach was a memorable character in the 2000 comedy film Next Friday, the sequel to the 1995 hit Friday. He was the friendly and funny neighbor of Day-Day (Mike Epps) and Craig (Ice Cube), who helped them deal with the antics of the Joker brothers and their vicious dog Chico. Roach was played by Justin Pierce, a talented actor and skateboarder who had a promising career ahead of him. But sadly, Pierce’s life was cut short by his own hand, leaving behind a mystery and a legacy.
Who was Justin Pierce?
Justin Pierce was born in London, England, on March 21, 1975, to a Welsh mother and an Australian father. He never knew his biological father, and his mother moved to New York City when he was a child. Pierce grew up in the Bronx, where he developed a passion for skateboarding and a rebellious attitude. He dropped out of school, moved out of his home, and got involved with drugs and crime. He was arrested several times for possession of marijuana and heroin.
Pierce’s life changed when he was discovered by filmmaker Larry Clark, who cast him as Casper, the profane and drug-addicted skateboarder friend of Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) in the controversial 1995 film Kids. The film, which depicted the lives of urban teenagers in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, was a critical and commercial success, and earned Pierce an Independent Spirit Award for his performance. Pierce moved to Los Angeles, where he continued to pursue his acting career. He appeared in several films and TV shows, such as A Brother’s Kiss, First Time Felon, Malcolm in the Middle, and Next Friday. He also remained active in the skateboarding scene, and was a member of the Zoo York and Supreme teams.
Pierce married stylist Gina Rizzo in Las Vegas in July 1999, and seemed to have a happy and stable life. But behind the scenes, he was struggling with depression and substance abuse. He had attempted suicide before, and had expressed suicidal thoughts to his friends and family.
How did Justin Pierce die?
On July 10, 2000, Pierce was found hanging in his room at the Bellagio Hotel in Paradise, Nevada, by hotel security. He had checked in the night before, after attending a party with his friends. His death was ruled as a suicide by the coroner. He was 25 years old at the time of his death. He left behind two suicide notes, which have not been made public. He also left behind his wife Gina Rizzo, whom he married in Las Vegas in July 1999, and his mother and brother, who lived in England.
The news of Pierce’s death shocked and saddened his fans, friends, and colleagues. Many of them paid tribute to him and expressed their condolences. Ice Cube, who co-starred with him in Next Friday, said: “He was a good kid. He had a lot of energy, a lot of heart. He was one of those people you just enjoy being around.” Leo Fitzpatrick, who played his best friend in Kids, said: “He was like a brother to me. He was the funniest person I ever met. He was always making me laugh. He was always there for me.”
Pierce’s funeral was held on July 15, 2000, at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan. He was buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York. His last film, Looking for Leonard, was released in 2002, and was dedicated to his memory.
Why did Justin Pierce kill himself?
The exact reason why Pierce decided to end his life remains unknown. He did not leave any clear explanation in his suicide notes, and his friends and family could only speculate on what drove him to such a desperate act. Some of the possible factors that may have contributed to his suicide are:
- His history of drug abuse. Pierce had been addicted to heroin and other drugs since his teenage years, and had been in and out of rehab. He had also overdosed several times, and had suffered from withdrawal symptoms. According to his wife, he had been clean for a while, but had relapsed shortly before his death. Drugs may have impaired his judgment and increased his impulsivity and hopelessness.
- His depression and mental illness. Pierce had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a condition that causes mood swings, manic episodes, and depressive episodes. He had also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from his abusive childhood and his exposure to violence and death. He had been on medication and therapy, but had stopped taking his pills and seeing his doctor. He had also isolated himself from his friends and family, and had expressed feelings of loneliness and worthlessness.
- His career and financial problems. Pierce had been struggling to find steady and satisfying work as an actor, and had been frustrated by the lack of opportunities and recognition. He had also been in debt, and had been sued by his former manager for breach of contract. He had been unhappy with his role in Next Friday, and had felt that he was typecast as a drug addict and a comic relief. He had also turned down several offers, including a role in the TV show Freaks and Geeks, because he wanted to pursue more serious and challenging projects.
- His personal and marital issues. Pierce had been married to Gina Rizzo for less than a year, but their relationship had been rocky and turbulent. They had argued frequently, and had separated several times. They had also been unfaithful to each other, and had been involved in affairs. Pierce had also been estranged from his mother and brother, who lived in England, and had not seen them for years. He had also lost some of his close friends, such as Harold Hunter, another skateboarder and actor who had died of a drug overdose in 1999.
What is Justin Pierce’s legacy?
Despite his tragic and premature death, Pierce left behind a lasting legacy as an actor and a skateboarder. He is remembered for his raw and authentic performances, especially in Kids and Next Friday, which captured the spirit and culture of his generation. He is also remembered for his skills and passion for skateboarding, which influenced and inspired many others. He is regarded as one of the pioneers and icons of the street skateboarding scene in New York City, and as a member of the legendary Zoo York and Supreme teams.
Pierce’s life and death have also been the subject of several documentaries, books, and articles, which have explored his personal struggles, his artistic achievements, and his cultural impact. Some of these include:
- The Kids (2018), a documentary film by Eddie Martin, which features interviews with Pierce’s friends and co-stars from Kids, and examines the aftermath of the film and the fate of its cast members.
- All the Wrong Moves (2019), a memoir by Sasha Chapin, which recounts the author’s friendship with Pierce and his obsession with chess.
- Kids: A History of Skateboarding in New York City (2020), a book by Bill Strobeck, which chronicles the evolution and influence of the skateboarding scene in New York City, and features photos and stories of Pierce and his peers.
Pierce’s memory is also honored and celebrated by his fans, friends, and family, who continue to share their admiration and appreciation for him. His wife Gina Rizzo, who remarried and had a son, has said: “He was a beautiful person. He had a lot of love in his heart. He was very special to me, and I will always love him.” His mother and brother, who moved to the US after his death, have said: “He was a wonderful son and brother. He was very talented and creative. He had a lot of potential. We miss him every day.” His co-star and friend Leo Fitzpatrick has said: “He was a legend. He was a star. He was a hero. He was my brother.”