Sylvester Stallone doesn’t believe “The Contender” is to blame for the death of Najai Turpin, a promising young boxer who got the break of a lifetime when he was selected for NBC’s upcoming reality TV show.
Police said Turpin, 23, shot himself in the head Monday in Philadelphia in a parked car outside the gym where he trained. Investigators were unsure why he took his life.
“This unfortunate occurrence seems to have nothing to do with boxing but other personal issues that we really don’t know much about,” Stallone said during a conference call Thursday.
Stallone, the 58-year-old “Rocky” star, developed the boxing series with reality TV mogul Mark Burnett.
Turpin’s presence will remain throughout the series, scheduled to debut March 7. The show, which follows the lives of 16 boxers competing for a million-dollar prize, began taping six months ago but will continue with live matches picked by fans and finale bout in May.
“He’s in multiple episodes,” said Burnett. “There will be a tribute to him in the series. It’s not something we’re going to ignore. It’s also something we’re not going to change.”
Stallone, who hosts “The Contender” with former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, said he heard about the incident from Jeff Wald, a producer for the show.
“I couldn’t believe my ears so I asked him to repeat it,” Stallone said.
Turpin had a 13-1 record and had won a city Recreation Department title in Philadelphia before being picked for “The Contender.” A biography on the show’s Web site called him an “extremely soft spoken” but focused fighter who worked two day jobs to support his family. He had a 2-year-old daughter.
“Najai wouldn’t sleep on the bed at ‘The Contender’ because he was so used to sleeping under the bed or in the closet for fear of various things between bullets and burglars and robbers and home invasions and the sort of things that no one on this call has had to deal with,” Burnett said.
Added Stallone: “I loved this man. I loved what he stood for. He was incredibly brave. When he was with his child, you saw the child in him come out.”