aka Chyna, Chyna DollArguably the most popular female wrestler of all time, Joanie Laurer reached historic heights as Chyna for the WWF (now WWE). Then she reached historic lows as Joanie Laurer in the real world.
Her WWE career highlights include a reign as Intercontinental Champion in the men's division. Her post-WWE career highlights include an arrest for battering her wrestler boyfriend, copious and colorful stories of public drunkenness, a disastrous lawsuit over whether she could use the name "Chyna" professionally, a too-revealing stint on The Surreal Life and a starring role in what reviewers call one of the worst hardcore porn movies of all time.
In the wrestling business, there's a special phrase reserved for the question of whether people who left the company on bad terms might ever return: "Never say never". That phrase has been officially waived for Laurer. If all of the above weren't bad enough, her severely estranged formed lover is now married to the daughter of Vince McMahon.
Born in 1970, Joanie Laurer was the product of a broken home. According to her autobiography, her childhood was "dysfunctional". Her father was an alcoholic and her mother bounced from one unhealthy relationship to the next. In a happier story, this fact would raise the question of "nature" vs. "nurture", but in this case, both nature and nurture would follow the same path to inevitable disaster.
It took young Joanie a while to find herself. She tried a number of trades, including belly dancing, selling pagers, tending bar and fronting a garage band. In 1995, she decided to give wrestling a go, and enrolled in a wrestling school run by the legendary Killer Kowalski.
While in training, she met a young up-and-comer named Paul Levesque, who had graduated from Kowalski's school a few years earlier. Levesque had recently jumped ship from Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling for Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (later rechristened World Wrestling Entertainment after an improbably disastrous lawsuit by the World Wildlife Fund).
Kowalski set up a meeting between Laurer and the WWF, arranging a tryout that led to her debut with the promotion in 1997. (Laurer tells a different version of the story, which Kowalski explained by saying, "She lies and lies and lies".)
Chyna debuted in the WWF as Levesque's "valet", which is wrestling-speak for "hot babe groupie". But Chyna wasn't so much a "hot babe" as a "tough broad" -- she was as tall as many of the wrestlers, weighing in at 190 pounds of pure muscle. She began her career by providing the occasional timely assist to Levesque, who had been rebranded as Hunter Heart Helmsley, aka Triple H.
In 1997, HHH and Chyna joined forces with wrestling legend Shawn Michaels to form D-Generation X, a wrestling faction that helped usher in what would be known as WWE's Attitude Era. Chyna continued as a prominent wrestler, but she was largely a secondary character.
That changed in 1998, when Chyna decided to improve her wrestling abilities in the great tradition of virtually all female wrestlers in the modern era -- by getting a pair of gigantic silicon boobs grafted to her ribcage. Suddenly, Laurer's muscles were only the second-most bulbous feature on her body, and her status within the WWF began to rise at a rate directly proportional to the erections of her adolescent male fans.
In a break with tradition, Chyna was booked as a real wrestler. In the past, women's roles in professional wrestling were limited to valets (arm candy) and matches within the women's division, which were mostly a literary device designed to allow bathroom breaks during a pay-per-view. Chyna announced that she wasn't interested in seeking the women's title. She wanted to wrestle men.
For as long as her backstage political backing endured, she was remarkably successful in this quest. She fought the Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, two of the company's biggest stars, and eventually won the WWF's Intercontinental Title, a championship belt for wrestlers who weren't quite ready for main event billing. Chyna worked programs with or against Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero and Jeff Jarrett, among others.
Her quest for the gold was assisted by her off-screen relationship with Triple H, which had become hot and heavy during the preceding months. (Chyna later told Howard Stern that the two had a lot of anal sex, which Stern speculated was some kind of gay thing, in light of Chyna's masculine, steroid-fueled physique.)
Triple H was one of the company's top stars, and more importantly, he was the consummate backstage politician. Sleeping with powerful people is a great way to reach the top... as long as you don't stop sleeping with them.
Triple H became involved in a storyline that had him "marrying" Stephanie McMahon, daughter of WWF Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon. The on-screen story eventually morphed into a real-life affair, however, leaving Chyna out in the cold. When her contract expired, Laurer and the WWF couldn't come to terms over money, and she left.
In itself, the decision leave WWF/WWE was not career suicide. Laurer had some possibilities, including wrestling on the independent circuit or capitalizing on her successful Playboy spread.
But the ensuing madness slowly foreclosed her options. There are several words and phrases that spring to mind when considering the post-WWE life of Joanie Laurer... "Tailspin" is one of them. "Downward spiral" also works. "Hindenberg" probably wouldn't be an understatement either.
After splitting with HHH, Laurer hooked up with another former WWE wrestler, Sean "X-Pac" Waltman. Waltman had left WWE in 2002, struggling with an addiction problem, and spent the next few years in and out of rehab. His relationship with Laurer didn't help, between her own drug and drinking problems, spates of sometimes deranged behavior and occasional abusive fits.
Laurer struggled to find her footing outside the WWE. Chyna was a hot commodity, but no one knew who the hell Joanie Laurer was, and the WWE banned her from using the stage name, which it had trademarked. The "cease and desist" letters flew when Fox tried to promote her as Chyna during an appearance on Celebrity Boxing 2, which ended in an embarrassing loss to Joey Buttafuoco for the artist "formerly known as Chyna". Laurer filled her time with other such career highlights as judging the World's Most Beautiful Transsexual Pageant.
Things continued to slide. Laurer lost out in a bid to play the female killing machine in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines when the producers decided to cast the waifish and forgettable Kristanna Loken as the Terminatrix. And let's face it, if Laurer couldn't get cast playing a female robot killing machine, what the hell kind of movie could she star in?
The answer to that question came along in 2004, when an "amateur" sex video featuring Laurer and Waltman was "accidentally" released on the Internet, not long after Paris Hilton won a burst of media attention with a similar release. Unlike the Hilton video, which was short and uninspired, Laurer's sex vid was long and way, way too enthusiastic.
It also featured far more of Joanie Laurer than virtually anybody wanted to see. Laurer and Waltman engaged in hardcore oral, anal and just plain distasteful intercourse for 56 unbearable minutes, including loving footage of Laurer's penis... uh, clitoris... uh, penis... uh, let's go with "very large clitoris that really, really, REALLY looks like a penis".
The clitoris in question was aptly described by a reviewer at SomethingAwful.com as "terrifying". Reviewers who could stop fixating on the clit were appalled by the acne rash on Joanie's ass, a byproduct of steroid use. A critical success, the film was not.
Amazingly, things continued to go downhill after this. Over New Year's 2005, Laurer was arrested for beating the crap out of Waltman. "She assaulted me struck me in the head and face countless times after getting back from the Playboy Mansion", Waltman wrote on his depressingly frank Web site. Laurer said she spent six days in jail over the flap.
Laurer also signed to take part in the fourth season of The Surreal Life, where she shared camera time with Mini-Me and Peter Brady. The Surreal Life is a "reality" celebrity show especially designed to humiliate former celebrities who are too dense or fucked-up to realize they are being humiliated. Needless to say, the artist formerly known as Chyna made an impact.
In the first episode, calling herself "Chyna Doll" in an effort to evade the WWE's legal team, Laurer tried to steal Mini-Me's room for the specially-size-challenged. In the second episode, she confessed to being a man (sort of). On the third episode, she confessed to having tried to kill herself. What's scary is that there are 12 episodes. If she wants to continue topping herself, Chyna Doll's going to have to take a machine gun to the cast.
During the publicity tour for The Surreal Life, Laurer continued her very public meltdown all over the place, but especially on the Howard Stern show, where the talk show host refereed a bizarre impromptu therapy session between Laurer, her brother and Waltman (on the phone), while the artist formerly known as Chyna stripped out of her dress in the studio (the presence of her brother notwithstanding).
It says something about your life when Howard Stern calls a halt to the on-air abuse and takes you aside after the show to tell you that you're really fucked up and need help.
Joanie Laurer may have broken down a lot of old traditions in the wrestling business, but she is walking a very traditional path with her public self-destruction. One can only hope that she'll take Stern's advice and get help, before she takes part in another venerable wrestling tradition -- dying young because of drug abuse.