Chyna (born Joan Marie Laurer on December 27, 1969 passed away at the age of only 46, on April 20, 2016. “Chyna” was an American professional wrestler, actress,glamour model, bodybuilder, English teacher and pornographic film actress.
Chyna first rose to prominence in the professional wrestling promotion the World Wrestling Federation in 1997, where she performed under the ring name Chyna and was billed as the “Ninth Wonder of the World” (André the Giant was already billed as the eighth). A founding member of the stable D-Generation X as the promotion’s first female enforcer, she held the WWF Intercontinental Championship (the only female performer to do so) twice and the WWF Women’s Championship once.
Chyna was also the first woman to participate in the Royal Rumble and King of the Ring events, as well as to become number one contender to the WWF Championship. With singles victories over several prominent male wrestlers – including multiple-time world champions Triple H, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho and Jeff Jarrett – Chyna has left “a lasting legacy as the most dominant female competitor of all time”. After leaving the WWF in 2001, Chyna wrestled sporadically, with New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2002 and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in 2011.
Outside of wrestling, Chyna appeared in Playboy magazine twice, as well as numerous television shows and films. In 2005, she was a cast member on VH1’s The Surreal Life, which led to several other celebrity reality appearances on the network, including The Surreal Life: Fame Games in 2007 and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew in 2008. She is also known for her tumultuous relationship with fellow wrestler Sean Waltman, with whom she made a sex tape released commercially in 2004 as 1 Night in China, which won a 2006 AVN Award for Best-Selling Title. She starred in a further five pornographic titles, including AVN’s 2012 Best Celebrity Sex Tape, Backdoor to Chyna.
CHYNA MADE THIS VIDEO SHORTLY BEFORE HER DEATH
Arguably the most popular female wrestler of all time, Joanie Laurer reached historic heights as Chyna for the WWF (now WWE). Then she reached historic lows as Joanie Laurer in the real world.
Her WWE career highlights include a reign as Intercontinental Champion in the men’s division. Her post-WWE career highlights include an arrest for battering her wrestler boyfriend, copious and colorful stories of public drunkenness, a disastrous lawsuit over whether she could use the name “Chyna” professionally, a too-revealing stint on The Surreal Life and a starring role in what reviewers call one of the worst hardcore porn movies of all time.
In the wrestling business, there’s a special phrase reserved for the question of whether people who left the company on bad terms might ever return: “Never say never”. That phrase has been officially waived for Laurer. If all of the above weren’t bad enough, her severely estranged formed lover is now married to the daughter of Vince McMahon.
Born in 1970, Joanie Laurer was the product of a broken home. According to her autobiography, her childhood was “dysfunctional”. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother bounced from one unhealthy relationship to the next. In a happier story, this fact would raise the question of “nature” vs. “nurture”, but in this case, both nature and nurture would follow the same path to inevitable disaster.
It took young Joanie a while to find herself. She tried a number of trades, including belly dancing, selling pagers, tending bar and fronting a garage band. In 1995, she decided to give wrestling a go, and enrolled in a wrestling school run by the legendary Killer Kowalski.
While in training, she met a young up-and-comer named Paul Levesque, who had graduated from Kowalski’s school a few years earlier. Levesque had recently jumped ship from Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling for Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (later rechristened World Wrestling Entertainment after an improbably disastrous lawsuit by the World Wildlife Fund).
Kowalski set up a meeting between Laurer and the WWF, arranging a tryout that led to her debut with the promotion in 1997. (Laurer tells a different version of the story, which Kowalski explained by saying, “She lies and lies and lies”.)
Chyna debuted in the WWF as Levesque’s “valet”, which is wrestling-speak for “hot babe groupie”. But Chyna wasn’t so much a “hot babe” as a “tough broad” — she was as tall as many of the wrestlers, weighing in at 190 pounds of pure muscle. She began her career by providing the occasional timely assist to Levesque, who had been rebranded as Hunter Heart Helmsley, aka Triple H.
In 1997, HHH and Chyna joined forces with wrestling legend Shawn Michaels to form D-Generation X, a wrestling faction that helped usher in what would be known as WWE’s Attitude Era. Chyna continued as a prominent wrestler, but she was largely a secondary character.
That changed in 1998, when Chyna decided to improve her wrestling abilities in the great tradition of virtually all female wrestlers in the modern era — by getting a pair of gigantic silicone boobs grafted to her ribcage. Suddenly, Laurer’s muscles were only the second-most bulbous feature on her body, and her status within the WWF began to rise at a rate directly proportional to the erections of her adolescent male fans.
In a break with tradition, Chyna was booked as a real wrestler. In the past, women’s roles in professional wrestling were limited to valets (arm candy) and matches within the women’s division, which were mostly a literary device designed to allow bathroom breaks during a pay-per-view. Chyna announced that she wasn’t interested in seeking the women’s title. She wanted to wrestle men.
For as long as her backstage political backing endured, she was remarkably successful in this quest. She fought the Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, two of the company’s biggest stars, and eventually won the WWF’s Intercontinental Title, a championship belt for wrestlers who weren’t quite ready for main event billing. Chyna worked programs with or against Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero and Jeff Jarrett, among others.
Her quest for the gold was assisted by her off-screen relationship with Triple H, which had become hot and heavy during the preceding months. (Chyna later told Howard Stern that the two had a lot of anal sex, which Stern speculated was some kind of gay thing, in light of Chyna’s masculine, steroid-fueled physique.)
Triple H was one of the company’s top stars, and more importantly, he was the consummate backstage politician. Sleeping with powerful people is a great way to reach the top… as long as you don’t stop sleeping with them.
Triple H became involved in a storyline that had him “marrying” Stephanie McMahon, daughter of WWF Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon. The on-screen story eventually morphed into a real-life affair, however, leaving Chyna out in the cold. When her contract expired, Laurer and the WWF couldn’t come to terms over money, and she left.
In itself, the decision leave WWF/WWE was not career suicide. Laurer had some possibilities, including wrestling on the independent circuit or capitalizing on her successful Playboy spread.
But the ensuing madness slowly foreclosed her options. There are several words and phrases that spring to mind when considering the post-WWE life of Joanie Laurer… “Tailspin” is one of them. “Downward spiral” also works. “Hindenberg” probably wouldn’t be an understatement either.
After splitting with HHH, Laurer hooked up with another former WWE wrestler, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman. Waltman had left WWE in 2002, struggling with an addiction problem, and spent the next few years in and out of rehab. His relationship with Laurer didn’t help, between her own drug and drinking problems, spates of sometimes deranged behavior and occasional abusive fits.
Laurer struggled to find her footing outside the WWE. Chyna was a hot commodity, but no one knew who the hell Joanie Laurer was, and the WWE banned her from using the stage name, which it had trademarked. The “cease and desist” letters flew when Fox tried to promote her as Chyna during an appearance on Celebrity Boxing 2, which ended in an embarrassing loss to Joey Buttafuoco for the artist “formerly known as Chyna”. Laurer filled her time with other such career highlights as judging the World’s Most Beautiful Transsexual Pageant.
Things continued to slide. Laurer lost out in a bid to play the female killing machine in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines when the producers decided to cast the waifish and forgettable Kristanna Loken as the Terminatrix. And let’s face it, if Laurer couldn’t get cast playing a female robot killing machine, what the hell kind of movie could she star in?
The answer to that question came along in 2004, when an “amateur” sex video featuring Laurer and Waltman was “accidentally” released on the Internet, not long after Paris Hilton won a burst of media attention with a similar release. Unlike the Hilton video, which was short and uninspired, Laurer’s sex vid was long and way, way too enthusiastic.
It also featured far more of Joanie Laurer than virtually anybody wanted to see. Laurer and Waltman engaged in hardcore oral, anal and just plain distasteful intercourse for 56 unbearable minutes, including loving footage of Laurer’s penis… uh, clitoris… uh, penis… uh, let’s go with “very large clitoris that really, really, REALLY looks like a penis”.
The clitoris in question was aptly described by a reviewer at SomethingAwful.com as “terrifying”. Reviewers who could stop fixating on the clit were appalled by the acne rash on Joanie’s ass, a byproduct of anabolic steroid abuse. A critical success, the film was not.
Amazingly, things continued to go downhill after this. Over New Year’s 2005, Laurer was arrested for beating the crap out of Waltman. “She assaulted me struck me in the head and face countless times after getting back from the Playboy Mansion”, Waltman wrote on his depressingly frank Web site. Laurer said she spent six days in jail over the flap.
Laurer also signed to take part in the fourth season of The Surreal Life, where she shared camera time with Mini-Me and Peter Brady. The Surreal Life is a “reality” celebrity show especially designed to humiliate former celebrities who are too dense or fucked-up to realize they are being humiliated. Needless to say, the artist formerly known as Chyna made an impact.
In the first episode, calling herself “Chyna Doll” in an effort to evade the WWE’s legal team, Laurer tried to steal Mini-Me’s room for the specially-size-challenged. In the second episode, she confessed to being a man (sort of). On the third episode, she confessed to having tried to kill herself. What’s scary is that there are 12 episodes. If she wants to continue topping herself, Chyna Doll’s going to have to take a machine gun to the cast.
During the publicity tour for The Surreal Life, Laurer continued her very public meltdown all over the place, but especially on the Howard Stern show, where the talk show host refereed a bizarre impromptu therapy session between Laurer, her brother and Waltman (on the phone), while the artist formerly known as Chyna stripped out of her dress in the studio (the presence of her brother notwithstanding).
It says something about your life when Howard Stern calls a halt to the on-air abuse and takes you aside after the show to tell you that you’re really fucked up and need help.
Joanie Laurer may have broken down a lot of old traditions in the wrestling business, but she is walking a very traditional path with her public self-destruction. One can only hope that she’ll take Stern’s advice and get help, before she takes part in another venerable wrestling tradition — dying young because of drug abuse.
Chyna worked during that latter period, wearing a barely-there S&M-inspired leather outfit with gigantic fake breasts tenuously restrained by her attire. She was, as is often the case with women in wrestling, an object of sexual desire. At the same time, she was unique in that the writers would have her regularly beating up men. Her impressive physique and sheer size made her intimidating and credible in that role. To this day, she’s the only woman to ever hold the WWE Intercontinental Championship. This was going on before Ronda Rousey became a pop culture phenomenon due to her proficiency as a fighter. WWE turned her character into an inspirational feminist figure, even while they sent her to pose for Playboy to satisfy the male gaze.
It all ended in 2001 and she was released by WWE. Without the financial support and the marketing prowess of WWE behind her, Chyna lost much of her relevance. According to a video interview with Vice Sports, she was not allowed to use the name Chyna, nor anything related to that character, which was her entire career. WWE owned the character of Chyna the same way Marvel Comics owns Spider-Man, even if Spider-Man isn’t technically just a person in a latex outfit. From there, Chyna fell into substance abuse, appeared on reality shows clearly intoxicated, and ended up doing adult films for Vivid Entertainment.
In a sense, Joanie Laurer lost the legal right to be herself. Of course, she wasn’t actually Chyna, but she worked around 350 days out of the year in that persona. Wrestlers are also encouraged not to break character in public. In her first Playboy appearance, she was billed as Chyna, not Joanie Laurer. Unlike an actor who appears in multiple films and TV shows, playing different characters, a successful wrestler plays the same character every single day for years. It’s as though your job was to be a mall Santa year-round, but you couldn’t take the costume off to get almond milk at the grocery store. Every thing that she had become, her entire identity, was taken from her in an instant.
Joanie Laurer might have passed away, but WWE still owns Chyna, who will live on via WWE Network, a Netflix-style streaming service that offers a seemingly infinite repository of wrestling history. Vince McMahon has staked the future of his company on the Network, hoping fans will pay $9.99 a month to watch original programming, plus historical content from the vast WWE video library. The Network is a major source of growth for WWE, but most ex-employees don’t see a dime of royalties from their work. A lawsuit was filed against WWE by Rene Goguen, better known as the character Rene Dupree, in an attempt to force them to pay up, but Goguen soon found out that he had signed a contract that contained a clause whereby he unwittingly forfeited all his rights to back-end streaming royalties. Unlike countless other professional sports, WWE has no union, and therefore no protection for its employees,who are deemed independent contractors.
NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA players receive compensation when one of their jerseys is sold or if they appear in a video game through their players’ unions. They receive pensions and health benefits. None of those protections exist for wrestlers. To WWE’s credit, they offer assistance to any wrestler who needs to kick a substance abuse issue, but they have yet to address whether intense working conditions contribute to these problems.
Earlier this week, I logged on to WWE Network and put on Starrcade 1991, a pay-per-view extravaganza from the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling, or WCW. Starrcade ‘91 was a truly awful program, which featured a convoluted tournament called the Lethal Lottery and something called a BattleBowl, which sounds like an especially aggressive, high in fiber breakfast cereal. What I did enjoy was seeing that almost every person on camera had a mullet, from the wrestlers to the referees to the crowd. It was a kitschy, laughable experience, until I started to wonder what happened to all of these people.
Every time I looked someone up, I prayed they weren’t dead, but more often than not, they were. Ravishing Rick Rude died at age 40 due to heart failure. Brian Pillman died at age 35 from heart disease. El Gigante died from complications related to diabetes at age 44. How much of the heart issues were related to drug use (both cocaine and steroids) is not a question I am qualified to answer, but it stands to reason that it was related. When wrestlers die, especially from ailments related to their extraordinarily taxing profession, watching their work takes on a macabre tone. Seeing Chris Benoit get hit in the head with a chair is even harder to watch when you realize that all that brain trauma must have played a role in the murder-suicide that ended his life and those of his entire family.
When watching these programs, it’s almost as if you are seeing them die in slow motion. The non-stop travel, the physical pain that must be endured to continue earning money, and the psychological pressure of never quite being sure your next paycheck is coming because you have no one looking out for your best interests. Wrestling is hyper-competitive and there is a near-monopoly on the industry thanks to WWE’s dominance. If you can’t work there, your options are to make very little from regional, independent promotions or go overseas, if you are lucky. Even if you do make it to WWE, there’s no guarantee you will survive in the business. The NFL is an equally shaky career path — the NFL Players’ Association says that the average football career is 3.2 years — but again, they have a union. As long as there is no counterbalance to the hegemony of WWE, stories such as Chyna’s will continue to come out with startling regularity.