Najai Turpin, a 23-year-old middleweight boxer from Philadelphia and a contestant on NBC's reality series The Contender, has committed suicide, Philadelphia police said yesterday.
Turpin died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head at 4 a.m. Monday while sitting in his car, parked around the corner from his house in West Philadelphia, said police Sgt. Ron McClane. He allegedly had had a fight with his girlfriend, who, an NBC spokeswoman said, was with him when he shot himself.
Scheduled to premiere March 7, The Contender features 16 boxers vying for $1 million. Mark Burnett, an accomplished producer in reality television with such hits as Survivor and The Apprentice, is the executive producer. Actor Sylvester Stallone and former boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard will serve as hosts and boxing mentors.
Turpin, who had a record of 13-1, including nine knockouts, worked at a restaurant cleaning seafood. According to NBC's Contender Web site, he would work his day shift, train for two hours and then report for another shift at the restaurant until midnight.
NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks said the network did not anticipate editing the show to remove Turpin. The Contender not only features the boxers in the ring, it also spotlights their personal lives.
Turpin's girlfriend and their 2-year-old daughter, Anje, are also featured.
"We are deeply saddened to learn of his death and our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family," Marks said yesterday.
All of the episodes for the boxing reality series have been filmed except for the live finale, set for May.
Turpin's death isn't the first time television has found itself grappling with true reality. In the Swedish version of Survivor, a member of the cast committed suicide after he was the first person voted off the island.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.