Joanie “Chyna” Laurer, a major part of the WWF/E in the late 90, was found dead in her home today at the age of 45. At this time, no further details are available as to the cause.
Laurer was a bodybuilder/fitness competitor who trained under Killer Kowalski, using the name Joanie Lee when she was introduced as HHH’s bodyguard after WCW had expressed interest in her but Kowalski pushed her to WWF/E.
She was instrumental in helping HHH, who had struggled getting over despite a major push, become a major star. The two became a couple which was both a blessing to her career and, eventually, a curse.
When HHH garnered power, Laurer was heavily protected and booked to go evenly with guys. There were very differing opinions on that as many of the male wrestlers didn’t like selling for her or that she was being pushed heavily. A day before she was to face Jeff Jarrett for the Intercontinental title at 1999’s No Mercy, Jarrett’s contract expired which enabled him to use leverage and hold WWF up for a significant amount of money (believed to be in the $200,000 range) to get him to do the job. He did and Chyna won the belt.
She was a popular star of the era at a time when the mainstream popularity of pro wrestling was at its high point, even posing in a best selling issue of Playboy.
After HHH and Chyna broke up, her political protection was gone which led to issues. She wanted to continue wrestling men, but those in power in WWF made the decision that they had made a mistake in allowing it in the first place and would only allow her to wrestle women.
In 2001, when her contract expired, she was let go. Those in WWE at the time claimed she was asking for money at the level of Steve Austin and Dwayne Johnson, and that she also wanted a lighter schedule to pursue acting. But it was probably a combination of being uncomfortable with her around. She claimed she met with Vince McMahon about Stephanie dating HHH, and from that point on, WWE stopped using her. There was a directive from the top not to sign her when the contract expired.
From there, her life and career largely went downhill. She had problems with drug addiction, which she vehemently denied. Her credibility in interviews was bad, even by wrestling standpoints, making claims that everyone in pro wrestling but herself was doing steroids, and made claims against former boyfriend Sean “X-Pac” Waltman which led to him to threaten legal action.
New Japan brought her in to do the role of beating men. Antonio Inoki pushed her hard as an attraction, and she even was given a win over a young Hiroshi Tanahashi, but she didn’t get over and the run ended.
She popped in and out of wrestling over the years, but never returned to WWE. She did a sex tape with Waltman and then started appearing in a number of porn films. She want to Japan for several years and taught English, and claimed that a multitude of people had asked to marry her. She returned to the U.S. and seemed to want to get back with WWE in some capacity, but the company steered clear of her.