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The Tragic Life and Career Of Joanie “Chyna” Laurer

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It’s very sad reading the news that former WWE star Joanie Laurer, better know to fans as Chyna, passed away yesterday at her home in California. While the official cause of death has yet to be announced, early reports suggest a possible overdose. It’s a tragic end to a mostly tragic life, as trauma seemed to follow Laurer throughout her career.

During her early years, Laurer experienced a very turbulent home life and the lack of stability may have been a factor in some of her more erratic choices later. She was also the victim of an assault during her college years before she found solace in fitness training.

Eventually, she began training at Killer Kowalski’s school and made her debut in pro wrestling in 1995. She was quickly noticed by both WCW and the WWF, and within a year of her start in the business was offered a WWF deal. She debuted on TV in early 1997 and her presence was a game changer in many aspects. She was a pioneer in redefining the role of females in the industry and her physique made her one of the most unique commodities in wrestling at a time when the business was generating record numbers. Initially cast as the body-guard for Triple H, Chyna did extremely well in her revolutionary role and that soon opened the door for her to develop her own persona. In 1999, Chyna would wrestle more regularly with men and did so in a convincing fashion, which hadn’t been done previously on WWF TV, as she went toe-to-toe with the opposite gender instead of the traditionally booked inter gender matches. Dubbed “The Ninth Wonder of the World,” Laurer alternated between divisions and became the first woman to win the IC title in October of that year. As one of the most popular performers on the roster, Chyna feuded with Chris Jericho for the belt and was paired with Eddie Guerrero the following year for the memorable “Latino Heat” storyline. Also in 2000, Laurer posed for Playboy magazine in one of the best-selling editions. In 2001, Chyna won the women’s title, but abruptly disappeared from WWF TV in May.

Behind the scenes, a real life situation began to have an effect on Chyna’s on-screen role. Triple H, who Laurer lived with for a few years previously, began a relationship with Stephanie McMahon. Depending on what side of the story you believe, Triple H and Chyna either had or hadn’t actually ended their relationship before he became involved with Stephanie McMahon. Regardless of the details, a very personal situation had become public and again, it depends on who you believe as to the extent that it effected Laurer’s status in the WWE. However, it certainly seems like it played at least some role in her dismissal because she was rarely mentioned after her departure and she became somewhat of a taboo topic in the WWE.

Sadly, it seems like Joanie Laurer never recovered from the problems that she had after her departure from the company and it became a very public, and disturbing downfall. Still extremely popular from her time on WWE TV, Laurer worked briefly for New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2002, but that was during a decline in Japanese business and she didn’t make many follow up appearances there. In 2004, she and Sean Waltman released their own sex tape, which was distributed by the Red Light District company. The details of the distribution of the tape are also debated, as it was reported that both Laurer and Waltman were paid for the rights to the footage, but she claimed that she didn’t receive money from the sales. The following year didn’t do much to help her public image either, as she appear on the VH1 reality show, “The Surreal life.” During the show, Laurer was shown drinking often and she displayed very erratic behavior. Shortly after that, she was arrested for a domestic violence incident with Waltman. Just weeks later, she made an appearance on the Howard Stern show, where she appeared to be intoxicated and incoherent. Reportedly, Howard offered to get her help after it was obvious that she was using substances, but she continued to struggle with addiction.

In 2008, she appeared on “Celebrity Rehab” and detailed some of her childhood trauma, and her drug use. Unfortunately, the treatment didn’t stop her drug use and she was rushed to the hospital later that year after a suspected suicide attempt. In 2009, she began working in the adult film industry again and released five films during the next few years before quitting the industry in 2013. Her substance abuse persisted during her filming career when she was hospitalized for an overdose of prescription medication in 2010.

After her exit from the adult industry, Laurer relocated to Japan to teach English for a few years before she moved back to the United States. In recent years, Laurer had been known for some bizarre messages on social media and alarming videos posted on YouTube that had many genuinely concerned for her mental health.

Ultimately, it’s a very tragic end for someone who clearly suffered from many problems during her life. Chyna had a revolutionary career and she probably doesn’t get the credit she deserves for her pioneering role for women in sports entertainment. An important lesson that can be taken from this is that anyone that is suffering from mental health problems or any other serious problem should seek help because it’s always better to try to seek help for a problem than avoid it.

Sincere condolences to Joanie Laurer’s friends and family at this difficult time.

-Jim LaMotta

@jimlamotta

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