Young contender due to appear in American reality TV show commits suicide

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The Independent US

The pressure of reality television was brutally highlighted last night after a contestant in a $26m (£15m) real-life series committed suicide.

The pressure of reality television was brutally highlighted last night after a contestant in a $26m (£15m) real-life series committed suicide.

Najai Turpin, 23, a middleweight boxer from Philadelphia, killed himself three weeks before The Contender, the NBC series in which he starred, is to air.

Police said Mr Turpin shot himself in the head at 4am on Monday while sitting with his girlfriend in a parked car outside the West Philadelphia gym where he trained. Investigators were unsure why he took his life.

The Contender, presented by Rocky star Sylvester Stallone, chronicles the attempts of 16 aspiring boxers to win a $1m prize. It also follows their personal lives, including their relationships with spouses and children. Mr Turpin's girlfriend, with whom he had a two-year-old daughter, also appears in the series, the broadcaster said. An NBC spokeswoman said the producers, cast and crew of The Contender were shocked and saddened by Mr Turpin's death. The episodes involving Mr Turpin, who entered the series as a well-regarded young fighter with a 13-1 record, had already been recorded.

According to The Contender's website, "the driving force behind the series will be the pursuit of the American dream and the natural trials, tribulations and heartbreak inherent in that quest.

The canvas of the show gives viewers a first-hand look into the real life hopes, triumphs and defeats of the contestants and how this single-minded, consuming commitment affects their families."

There is no mention of Mr Turpin's death on the website. His biography states he was born in the ghetto and "is extremely soft spoken, polite and a very motivated and focused fighter".

According to the website, Mr Turpin worked in a restaurant during the day and trained in the evening. It also says he was offered the chance to take part in The Contender the day after being robbed at gunpoint, something he took as "a sign from God".

Mark Burnett, the show's executive producer, said: "Nothing changes. I'm not even going to make any edits because it's real." Mr. Burnett added that, at some point, the series will make a mention of Mr Turpin's death, probably in an onscreen message at the end of an episode.

NBC has more invested in "The Contender" than any previous reality series, having made a commitment to spend more than $2m an episode for the 13-episode series.

Percy "Buster" Custus, a trainer who had worked with Mr Turpin since he was 12, said the boxer had enjoyed his experiences with the show but seemed troubled in recent weeks. He said Mr Turpin abruptly left a training camp in the Poconos and returned home to Philadelphia, saying he missed his family.

"None of us really know what brought this about," Mr Custus said. "You just want to see the boys come out of the neighbourhood."