Joanie Laurer, better known as Chyna to the wrestling world, has died at age 45. She was found dead in her home in LA on Wednesday by her manager after what appeared to be a large intake of pills for sleeping problems, according to people who had seen her the day before.
Chyna broke into the business in 1997 as the bodyguard, and real life girlfriend, of Paul “HHH” Levesque, and quickly became a sensation during the famed “Attitude Era” of the WWF. With her muscular physique and imposing presence, she stood out from all the other females in the promotion and quickly turned her unique look into a star-making character as the muscle behind HHH’s smart-ass attitude. She became a founding member of D-Generation X with HHH and Shawn Michaels, and achieved her greatest stardom after a series of plastic surgeries to enhance her breasts and reshape her face. She was able to use her physical transformation for an unlikely series of Playboy photo shoots in 1999 and 2000, which quickly set sales records for the magazine. She also made history in 1999 by becoming the first, and only, woman to win the Intercontinental title when she defeated Jeff Jarrett. After losing the title to Chris Jericho, her wrestling career began a rapid spiral downwards. Much of it stemmed from her romantic life falling apart, as longtime boyfriend Levesque left her in 2000 for his on-screen wife Stephanie McMahon, which Chyna has always claimed was the end of her push. She had a brief career resurgence as a manager for Eddie Guerrero in 2000, which ended up helping his career much more than hers via the “Latino Heat” gimmick. From there, she was moved into the Women’s division and made champion in 2001, but was portrayed to be so far above the other competitors that she never appeared to be in any jeopardy of losing at any point. She also didn’t appear happy in the role and finally left the promotion later in the year, heavily rumored to be a direct result of her personal issues with Stephanie, abandoning the title in the process. From there, her career hit further lows, as she developed drug problems and moved through rehab centers while dabbling in various ill-advised reality TV endeavors in an effort to keep her name in the public eye. She became notorious for her behavior in shows like “The Surreal Life” and later “Celebrity Rehab”, and even took part in the embarrassing “Celebrity Boxing” special where she fought Joey Buttafucco. She hit what appeared to be her low point with “One Night In Chyna”, the legendarily terrible sex tape that she made with then-boyfriend Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, but then attempted to transition from that into legitimate acting. When that failed, she moved full-time into the world of porn, playing She-Hulk in “The Avengers: A XXX Parody” and then doing a wrestling-themed porn where she performed various sexual acts with thinly-veiled versions of famous wrestling personalities.