Born: December 27, 1969
Died: April 17, 2016 (at age 46)
Birthplace: Rochester, New York, U.S.
Joan Marie Laurer (December 27, 1969 - April 17, 2016), also known by her ring name Chyna, was an American professional wrestler, glamour model, pornographic film actress, and bodybuilder.
Chyna first rose to prominence in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) in 1997, where she 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. She 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 left what WWE called "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 (NJPW) in 2002 and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) 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.
Laurer was born in Rochester, New York on December 27, 1969. She had two older siblings: Kathy and Sonny.
After her parents divorced when she was approximately four years old, Laurer had three different stepfathers and one stepmother. According to Laurer, her first stepfather threatened suicide at one point, and her biological father, who once accidentally stabbed her mother in the thigh with a bread knife, had a problem with alcoholism. From 1973 to 1983, she, her siblings and her mother moved several times.
As a child, Laurer learned to play both the violin and cello. She later said that in seventh grade she was sexually kissed by a much older teacher who worked at her school. At age thirteen, while attending Penfield High School, she began purging after she ate. She left home at age sixteen after her mother tried to force her into a drug rehabilitation facility, going instead to live with her biological father. That same year, she began working out, and because her abdominal muscles were so strong, she did not feel any pain when she developed an ovarian tumor. She finished her last year of high school in Spain.
She attended the University of Tampa, graduating in 1992 with a major in Spanish Literature. During college, she also studied French and German (she could converse in either language) and later stated during this time she was raped by two men after getting drunk at a party. She also was a member of the ROTC. She originally wanted to use her knowledge of foreign languages to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation or Drug Enforcement Administration. Subsequently, she joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to Guatemala.
After returning from abroad, Laurer held several different jobs: a cocktail waitress in a strip club, singer in a band, and a 900-number chat line worker. In her mid-to-late 20s, while living in the Florida Keys, she took a six-week class to train to be a flight attendant. On the way to her first flight, she was in a car accident and spent four days in the hospital. After recovering from the accident, Laurer's sister Kathy helped her get a job selling beepers, and both women also worked as belly dancers.
After college, Laurer began to regularly enter fitness competitions. In 1996, Laurer competed in the New York City regional level of the Fitness America competition. Because of her large size compared to the other women, she usually finished in last place.
Joanie Laurer trained at Wladek "Killer" Kowalski's professional wrestling school in Malden, Massachusetts. Her first match was in 1995 against a male wrestler dressed as a woman. While attending the school, she also worked for various independent promotions as Joanie Lee. Some of her earliest matches were set up by The Fabulous Moolah.
Laurer met World Wrestling Federation (WWF) performers Paul "Triple H" Levesque and Shawn Michaels after a professional wrestling show in 1996. After watching tapes of her matches, they decided to bring her into the WWF as a bodyguard. Vince McMahon, the owner of the WWF, initially did not want her to join the company because he did not believe the audience would find a woman beating up men believable. While waiting for the WWF's decision, Laurer was approached by World Championship Wrestling (WCW), who wanted her to be the sole-female member of the New World Order. She initially accepted the offer, but later turned it down when Shane McMahon, Vince McMahon's son, informed her that she was about to be hired by the WWF. However, Kowalski claimed that he got Laurer hired by the WWF after introducing her to Shane McMahon and telling him of WCW's interest in her.
Laurer made her WWF debut on February 16, 1997 at In Your House 13: Final Four; her character emerged as a plant from a ringside seat, choking Marlena while Goldust was in the ring with Triple H. Her original role in the promotion was as the laconic enforcer/bodyguard for D-Generation X which was founded by Shawn Michaels and Triple H. She often helped them (then, a rising villain) cheat to win by physically interfering in matches by executing her trademark low blow to the groin. She was later given the ring name "Chyna", an intentionally ironic moniker; fine china is delicate and fragile, a sharp contrast to her character. Off-screen, however, the male wrestlers were hesitant at first to let a female over-power them on-screen.
In January 1999, Chyna was the thirtieth entrant in the Royal Rumble, becoming the first woman ever to enter the contest. The day after the Royal Rumble, Chyna became a villainess by betraying Triple H and aligning herself with his enemy Vince McMahon and Kane. Laurer teamed with Kane at the St. Valentine's Day Massacre pay-per-view against former allies X-Pac and Triple H. At WrestleMania XV, Chyna turned on Kane in his match by attacking him with a chair, appearing to rejoin DX. Chyna and Triple H, however, turned against DX later that evening when they helped Shane McMahon defeat DX member X-Pac. The duo became part of The Corporation and later Shane McMahon's Corporate Ministry. Following the dissolution of the Corporate Ministry, the villainous Chyna remained at Triple H's side. They would eventually split up later in the year.
In June 1999, Chyna became the first woman to qualify for the King of the Ring tournament. She was also the first female to be the number one contender for the WWF Championship, but lost the spot to Mankind before SummerSlam in August. Later that year, Laurer became a fan favorite again during her long feud with Jeff Jarrett. At Unforgiven, she had a match for the WWF Intercontinental Championship against Jarrett, which she lost. She defeated Jarrett for the title at No Mercy in his last WWF match, a Good Housekeeping match, on October 17 at No Mercy, in the process becoming the first and only woman to win the Intercontinental Championship. She also gained the services of his valet, Miss Kitty. Laurer claims that Jarrett demanded (and received) $300,000 from Vince McMahon in order to lose the title cleanly to a woman. His contract had expired on October 16, and he was therefore not contractually obligated to appear on the pay-per-view. If he had not appeared, the WWF would have been criticized for false advertising, and the lineage of the title would have been broken.
Chyna then feuded with Chris Jericho over the belt, defeating him at the Survivor Series, but losing the title to him at Armageddon. The two faced off again in a match on the edition of December 28 of SmackDown!, which ended controversially with both wrestlers pinning each other. As a result, then "head of authority" Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley declared them co-champions. At the Royal Rumble, Jericho and Chyna defended the title against Hardcore Holly in a Triple Threat match to determine the Intercontinental Champion, which Jericho won; Chyna's "co-champions" reign is no longer recognized by WWE and is now considered a continuation of Jericho's second Intercontinental reign. Afterwards, Laurer briefly teamed with Jericho.
Not long after losing the Intercontinental title, Laurer became the on-screen girlfriend of Eddie Guerrero. Guerrero and Laurer, originally villains, later became fan favorites during the summer of 2000, with Guerrero dubbing her his "Mamacita". The couple faced Val Venis and then-rookie Trish Stratus in an intergender tag team match at SummerSlam with the Intercontinental Championship on the line. Chyna won the match, but lost the belt two weeks later to Guerrero in a Triple Threat match with Kurt Angle. They officially split in November 2000 after Chyna, in storyline, found Eddie cavorting in the shower with two other women.
At the same time, Laurer posed nude for Playboy magazine's November 2000 issue. Her Playboy modeling was also worked into a WWE storyline (based, in part, on a real-life legal feud between the WWE and the conservative Parents Television Council), in which it drew the ire of the Right to Censor (a group of morally conservative wrestlers). Shortly after, Laurer began a feud with Ivory, a member of the Right to Censor, over the Women's Championship. This culminated in a storyline at the Royal Rumble where Laurer appeared to reinjure her neck while performing a handspring back elbow. In order to better convince the audience that she was injured, color commentator Jerry Lawler left the commentators' booth and entered the ring to check on Laurer's condition, something he had not done since the in-ring accident that killed Owen Hart in 1999. When Laurer returned from the "injury", she won the Women's Championship from Ivory at WrestleMania X-Seven in a squash match. Laurer also defended her title against Lita at Judgment Day in 2001. Although she won the match, she soon vacated the Women's Championship, as this was Laurer's final WWF match.
She left the WWF on November 30, 2001, several months after she had been taken off of television. Behind the scenes, Triple H, her former real-life boyfriend, began a relationship with Stephanie McMahon, with whom Laurer claims he had an affair and then left her for. Chyna, in a 2015 interview with Vince Russo, stated that after a meeting with Vince McMahon about the Stephanie McMahon situation, she was sent home and was later sent a fax telling her that she was not needed anymore, although in a 2002 interview with The Baltimore Sun, Chyna indicated that the breakup had nothing to do with her leaving WWF and that she left to pursue an acting career. Then-Executive Vice President of Talent Relations Jim Ross reports that it was "mutually agreed" to let her contract expire in order for her to explore other options.
In 2002, Laurer joined New Japan Pro Wrestling and made her first appearance at the New Japan Thirtieth Anniversary Show, refereeing a bout between the Steiner Brothers and Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kensuke Sasaki. In September and October 2002, she wrestled several matches for the promotion. After losing to Masahiro Chono on October 14, 2002, Laurer performed her final match on October 26, teaming with a fake Great Muta played by Troy Enders in a loss to Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kenzo Suzuki.
During the May 3, 2011, tapings of the edition of May 12 of Impact!, Chyna made her TNA debut, introduced by the returning Spike TV network consultant Mick Foley. He introduced her as Kurt Angle's business associate (she had been previously referred to as his "Mistress") and tag team partner at Sacrifice, where they would face Jeff Jarrett and Karen Jarrett. During the taping she also took part in a battle royal, from which she eliminated Jeff. At Sacrifice, Chyna submitted Karen for the win in the mixed tag team match. She left TNA shortly after making Sacrifice 2011 her final wrestling match.
Numerous commentators have credited Chyna as being influential to women's wrestling and one of the biggest stars of WWE's Attitude Era. Commentator and former WWE official Jim Ross described Chyna as "The distinctive athlete was to WWE what Ronda Rousey has been to UFC", while E! News said that Chyna accomplished more in her near-decade career than any woman had ever done. Others praise Chyna as a feminist icon who defied gender norms; Dawn Heinecken, a professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Louisville, wrote in 2004 that "She was demonized as a feminist who challenged male dominance ... Her latest, and most popular incarnation was that of a sex symbol". She was the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble match and is the only woman to have held the WWE Intercontinental Championship. Luke Winkie of Sports Illustrated listed Chyna as the 79th greatest wrestler of all time. Independent wrestler Kimber Lee credits Chyna as her influence to get into wrestling.
Columnist Mike Mooneyham of The Post and Courier stated that it is "an oft-asked question" as to when Chyna will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Jim Ross said that Chyna had an "overwhelming desire" to be inducted during her lifetime. On February 9, 2015, during a WWE Network podcast with Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H mentioned that Chyna deserved to be in the Hall of Fame but that problems with children Googling her prohibited it. The day following her death, a post on WWE.com expressed sadness about it and featured a video of her winning the Women's Championship. In an interview with The Daily Mirror shortly after her death, Triple H said that she "definitely warranted" a place in the Hall of Fame. The following month, Stephanie McMahon said she was sure Chyna would be inducted but was not sure what year it would happen. WWE played a video tribute in her memory on the April 25 episode of Raw.
Laurer made her porn debut with the 2004 video 1 Night in China. Laurer and Sean Waltman approached Red Light District Video to distribute the homemade video, which was released in 2004. Laurer appeared in her second pornographic video, entitled Another Night in China in 2009. In 2011, Laurer starred in her first professional pornographic film for Vivid Video entitled Backdoor to Chyna. She also starred for Vivid as She-Hulk in their parody of The Avengers, released in May 2012. A spinoff feature centered on the She-Hulk character and titled She-Hulk XXX was released to video in April 2013.
|2004||1 Night in China||Herself|
|2009||Another Night in China||Herself|
|2011||Backdoor to Chyna||Herself|
|2012||Chyna is Queen of the Ring||Herself|
|2012||Avengers XXX: A Porn Parody||She-Hulk|
|2013||She Hulk XXX: A Porn Parody||She-Hulk|
|2006||AVN Awards||Best Selling Title of the Year||1 Night in China|
|2012||AVN Awards||Best Celebrity Sex Tape||Backdoor to Chyna|
Chyna has been depicted in five video games, which include:
Laurer modeled nude for Playboy; her first issue, which featured a pictorial of her, was released in November 2000. In 2002, following her departure from the WWF, Laurer appeared in a second nude pictorial. She also filmed a Playboy adult documentary entitled Joanie Laurer Nude: Wrestling Superstar to Warrior Princess, which followed Laurer on the set.
In 2001, Laurer released her autobiography, entitled If They Only Knew. It spent time on The New York Times' bestseller list.
Laurer appeared on The Howard Stern Show in 2000, where she claims that she "made out of self." She also appeared in 3rd Rock from the Sun as Janice, a police officer who briefly dated Harry Solomon, as well as several Stacker 2 commercials and was a presenter at the MTV Video Music Awards.
In 2001, Laurer was a guest on a special celebrity edition of Fear Factor. She lost in the final round of the competition to Coolio. The following year, Laurer was reportedly up for a part in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but lost out on the role to Kristanna Loken. Laurer was also the host of Robot Wars: Grand Champions in 2002. She also appeared on the celebrity game show, Hollywood Squares in 2003.
Laurer appeared as a character named Lulu in Sevendust's music video for the song "Enemy" in 2003.
In early 2005, Laurer debuted on The Surreal Life, with housemates Da Brat, Jane Wiedlin, Adrianne Curry, Christopher Knight, Marcus Schenkenberg, and Verne Troyer. On the show, she drank heavily, appeared nude, and got into an argument with her ex, Sean Waltman. She remained friends with Adrianne Curry after the show and made a brief cameo on her reality show My Fair Brady. Laurer also appeared on The Surreal Life: Fame Games, which began to air on VH1 in January 2007. The filming took place in April 2006 in Las Vegas. Her elimination from the show, which occurred in the seventh episode, was controversial. Andrea Lowell had accumulated the lowest score in the "Celebrity Call-Back-A-Thon" challenge, but she manipulated Kennedy, the judge, to increase her score and got Laurer eliminated in the process.
Also in 2006, Laurer appeared in Just Another Romantic Wrestling Comedy and Illegal Aliens, the latter of which was the last movie featuring Anna Nicole Smith before her death. On Cristina's Court, a syndicated court-themed reality show, Laurer appeared in an episode originally airing July 14, 2007 in a civil dispute against a breeder of teacup chihuahuas. Judge Perez ruled in favor of the plaintiff—Laurer—awarding her $4,000.
Laurer's breast implants were custom-made for her after her first implants were ruptured during a wrestling match. She had also complained to her plastic surgeon that their largest implants did not suit her frame in the way she desired. Laurer's custom implants became the model for the Chyna 2000s, a model of breast implant now marketed to large-framed women and female bodybuilders. Laurer claimed to have paid $6,000 for them.
From 1996 until 2000, Laurer dated fellow wrestler Paul "Triple H" Levesque. They initially hid their relationship from their co-workers because Laurer felt that people might think she " her way to the top". The duo also lived together for some time. There is some debate as to whether or not Levesque started his relationship with Stephanie McMahon while still with Laurer. However, after Laurer's death her sister Kathy Hamilton told Bleacher Report that the couple disagreed about having children (Levesque wanted children while Laurer did not), and Laurer's addictions and mental health issues also contributed to their breakup.
Beginning in 2003, Laurer had a tumultuous relationship with wrestler Sean Waltman. They were engaged for a period in 2003, then broke up, and then became engaged again, a pattern that continued for the next two years. In 2004, Laurer and Waltman made a sex tape. Eager for a repeat success, the company that released Paris Hilton's celebrity sex tape obtained the footage, edited it, and released it under the name 1 Night in China. The video sold over 100,000 copies, with both Laurer and Waltman earning a share of the profits. Laurer, however, maintained that she did not earn any money from the release. In January 2005, Laurer was arrested for domestic assault after allegedly beating Waltman.
On February 8, 2007, a visibly upset Laurer appeared on Larry King Live to speak about her friend, Anna Nicole Smith, who had died earlier that day. On the program, Laurer claimed that she "knew it was coming" because of the way the media had ridiculed Smith, and she drew parallels between the plight of Anna and herself. The wife of the CEO of Trim Spa, Monique Goen, however, claimed that Smith did not consider Laurer a friend.
After leaving the WWF, Laurer was unable to use the name "Chyna" because of its trademark. Therefore, she began to use the name "Chynna Doll" for public appearances. In November 2007, Laurer legally changed her name to Chyna.
Laurer also had problems with substance abuse. She claimed that her "life was spinning out of control" around the time she made the sex tape. In January 2005, Sean Waltman claimed that she was battling drug and alcohol addiction, as well as mental illness. Days after the domestic dispute between Waltman and Laurer, it was reported in the New York Post that she had stripped naked and jumped into a fish tank in a New York nightclub. That same month, she made another appearance on The Howard Stern Show, where she was slurring her words and going off on random tangents. On the program, she claimed not to want to do drugs anymore, but said that if a line of cocaine was in front of her, she would do it. After her appearance, she entered a facility specializing in helping people with depression, and she decided to stop drinking. In early 2008, Laurer appeared on the VH1 reality TV show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, but she claimed on the show that she did not consider herself an addict. On December 27, 2008, she was rushed to the hospital after her birthday party, where she was found passed out with cuts on her arms.
Laurer had a strained relationship with her family. She last saw her mother at the age of 16, and she claimed that her father never got over her decision not to join the FBI. She also alleged that her father took out several student loans in her name without her knowledge, leaving her with $40,000 in debt. On an episode of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew in 2008, Laurer claimed to have a bad relationship with all of her family members, including her siblings. In September 2010, Laurer was hospitalized after overdosing on sleeping medication. As of February 2015, Laurer had re-established a good relationship with her mother; her father died in May 2014.
In early 2014 Laurer taught English in Japan. She converted to Mormonism while there.
On April 20, 2016, Laurer was found dead at her home in Redondo Beach, California. She was 46 years old. Her manager Anthony Anzaldo had grown concerned when Laurer did not post updates or content to her usual social media outlets for several days and subsequently found her body in her apartment. A statement was posted to her Twitter account by her manager confirming her death. Initial police reports stated she probably died of an accidental-drug overdose or natural causes. Anzaldo suggested that any overdose was accidental, claiming that she was prescribed drugs but tended to use them improperly.
Her brain has been donated to science to study the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A memorial service was held in Los Angeles on June 22, 2016, where hundreds of fans and friends attended including former WWE Superstar Melina, Barry Williams and Coolio. Chyna was cremated, and her ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.
A report of her autopsy was released in December 2016. Laurer died on April 17 of an overdose of alcohol, combined with the anxiety drugs diazepam and nordazepam, painkillers oxycodone and oxymorphone, and sleeping aid temazepam.