The rise and fall of one of wrestling’s most ground breaking women.
The huge story this week was the passing of Chyna/Joanie Laurer at 45. Laurer was sadly the epitome of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler movie – someone who had huge success and then struggled afterwards with her demons and trying to find her place and peace post success.
While Sunny ushered in the new age of women in wrestling, Sable furthered that but it was Chyna who took women to an astronomic height in the Attitude era of wrestling, paving the way for the level of women’s wrestling we have now. Originally WCW wanted her to be in the original NWO but she signed with the WWF, debuting in 1997 as Triple H’s bodyguard and going on to join him in Degeneration X. In 1999 Chyna became the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble, then later that year would become the first woman to compete in the King of the Ring tournament and also the first woman to be the number one contender for the World Heavyweight Championship. In October she defeated Jeff Jarrett to become the only woman to every hold the Intercontinental Championship but would lose it to Chris Jericho in December leading to a rematch on December 28th which saw a double pin finish and them being declared the co-champions. In November Laurer posed for Playboy magazine and on April 1st 2001 would defeat Ivory for the Women’s Championship at Wrestlemania X-Seven. 2001 would also see the release of her biography.
In 2000 she had gained a reputation for being difficult and was opposed to working with women in 2001, wanting to stay as a contender in male matches; the WWF however wanted to capitalise on her mainstream attention from Playboy and have her be the figurehead of the Women’s Division. During this time Triple H ended their real life relationship and immediately started a relationship with Stephanie McMahon; deeply upsetting Laurer. Convinced that their relationship had started while she was still with Triple H, Chyna called a meeting with WWF boss and Stephanie’s father, Vince McMahon to complain about the situation. This resulted in her being sent home and not used for months until she departed the company in November 2001.
In 2002 Chyna debuted with NJPW, even facing off against Japanese legend Masahiro Chono. Meanwhile she posed again for Playboy, made guest appearances in various TV shows, music videos and even was seriously considered for the role of the female Terminator in the third movie, Terminator: Rise of the Machines. It seemed like Laurer’s star power could flourish without the WWF marketing machine behind her but it didn’t last long.
Laurer’s lows were equal in their peaks to her highs. 2003 saw her drug addiction and mental health spiral out of control as she began a destructive relationship with Triple H’s close friend Sean Waltman (X-Pac) who also battled drug addiction. In 2004 they released an amateur sex tape and in January 2005 Laurer was arrested for domestic assault on Waltman. Days later she would strip off in a New York nightclub and swim in a large fishtank. Her descent would continue as she mainly appeared on reality TV shows and specials along with radio shows which were almost exploitative of her state as she was often unpredictable and prone to saying things which were controversial including allegations of not being paid for the sex tape (which was disproved by Red Light District) and that she was raped as the contents of the tape were filmed without her consent, despite her acknowledging the camera repeatedly and co signing the contract for its release. She would then make a professional porn film in 2009.
In 2010 Laurer was hospitalised after a suicide attempt. In 2011 she seemed to be getting back on track with a short stint with TNA but then filmed another porn film resulting in her not being hired by TNA. Two more porn movies followed in 2012 and another in 2013; she also worked as an escort during this time. Her bizarre behaviour peaked in 2015 as she continued her allegations against Waltman and claimed that Triple H had physically hit her during their relationship which he strongly denied. Laurer would also make a veiled allegation regarding Triple H and young boys. Laurer would move abroad to teach English in Japan but returned to the US in 2016. Days before her death she uploaded a video to her YouTube channel which saw her slurring and appearing to be under the influence of drugs. On Thursday she was found dead at her home of a suspected overdose.
While the last 15 years of her struggle with addictions overshadowed her accomplishments, Joanie Laurer will be remembered as a true pioneer in women’s wrestling and as someone who broke barriers by proving that muscular women could also be feminine and have sex appeal. While Triple H had previously stated that Laurer couldn’t be a part of the WWE Hall of Fame because of her career in pornography, this week in an interview with The Mirror he indicated she could be inducted at some point as he pointed out that she deserved it, which she truly does.