Remembering Chyna: Joanie Laurer Was the WWE's Troubled Pioneer
The professional wrestling world is in mourning today following the loss of one its true pioneers, Joanie “Chyna” Laurer, who was found dead yesterday at her home in Redondo Beach, Calif., at the age of 45.
Outside the ring Laurer had her demons, but this does not take away from the impact she left on a male-dominated industry. From the moment she was introduced as Triple H’s bodyguard in 1997, the imposing Glamazon blazed a trail all her own.
The “Ninth Wonder of the World” changed the way women were perceived in pro-wrestling, demonstrating that a female pro wrestler could be sexy, powerful and on the level of any man. Laurer’s popularity surged throughout the booming “Attitude Era” of the 1990’s as the muscle of D-Generation X.
She wasn’t above getting physical with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin or Mick Foley or any other WWE superstar. Not surprising since she was trained by the late great Killer Kowalski. In 1999, Chyna made history, becoming the first woman ever to enter the Royal Rumble. The same year, she qualified for WWE’s annual King of the Ring tournament, and before the dawn of the new millennium, won the Intercontinental championship.
As one of the biggest names in pro wrestling, male or female, Chyna transcended sports entertainment.
She landed the cover of TV Guide Magazine, appeared in popular shows at the time, such as Sabrina The Teenage Witch and Third Rock From the Sun.
She dove even further into the mainstream with guest spots on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Chyna's larger-than-life personality was highlighted by an incredible entrance that featured a bazooka that shot fireworks. And though she was a force in the ring, she displayed a more feminine side on the cover of Playboy and WWF Magazine in 2000 and publishing her memoir, If They Only Knew, in 2001. Another Playboy spread followed a few years later and, when her star began to dim, dabbled in the adult film industry.
The entertainer showed off how multi-faceted she was onscreen during her final days with WWE. She had romantic storylines with Mark "Sexual Chocolate" Henry and Eddie Guerrero, dubbed “Latino Heat’s” Mamacita. One of her last big moments with the company happened in 2001 when she defeated Ivory for the women’s championship at WrestleMania 17.
After WWF released her in 2001, Chyna took her drive to be the best to New Japan Pro Wrestling. The trailblazer did the unheard of during her stint in the Orient. The Chyna Doll stood toe-to-toe with some of the most legendary stars in the promotion, and did it convincingly.
The last time she was seen on television wrestling was in 2011 during a stint with TNA.
Detractors of Chyna—and the pro-wrestling phenomenon—like to point out her unstable public appearances in reality shows Celebrity Rehab and The Surreal Life, her AVN award-winning adult movies and erratic YouTube videos.
Though she clearly battled lifelong demons, Chyna literally gave her life to the entertainment industry and deserves to be remembered for all the good she did during her WWE career and the way she inspired generations of men and female to Chase their dreams, no matter what obstacles stand in your way.
Sadly, Chyna’s checkered past has prevented WWE from giving her proper recognition. During a live edition of the “Stone Cold Podcast” on WWE Network, Triple H made it clear the decisions she made outside the business lessen her chance at going into the company's Hall of Fame.
Before his marriage to WWE heir Stephanie McMahon, Triple H and Chyna had a long-term, off-screen relationship. Other past inductees have often found themselves on the wrong arm of the law and good taste. This is why fans took the WWE’s executive's stance as far too personal. There is no denying Chyna is worthy of the honor. When the news of Laurer's death broke, there was an outpouring of love and support from colleagues and fans alike—all reflecting on the good Chyna did for them, the companies she worked for and the sport she loved.
WWE Hall of Fame or no WWE Hall of Fame, Chyna's legacy will live on.