Chyna had been called “The First Lady of Sports Entertainment”. Her accomplishments went far beyond the wrestling ring and anyone’s guess. Before exchanging body slams, modeling for top magazines and guest-starring on hundreds of shows,
Chyna was a shy girl who was born Joan Marie Laurer in Rochester, New York, to Janet Carol (Wahl) and Joseph “Joe” Von Laurer, Jr. She spent most of her childhood in a home filled with alcoholism and domestic problems. She found her escape through working out, and began doing aerobics and lifting weights at a gym near her home. This is where she found her true niche: the world of fitness.
As the only female in the gym, Chyna always stood out but developed bonds and friendships with the gym members, who gave her the encouragement to keep going. She broke all gender barriers everywhere she went, and continued her love of fitness throughout her college days. Chyna graduated from the University of Tampa with a 3.9 GPA, and a double major in Spanish Literature, in under two years. She also studied foreign languages, and could speak English, Spanish, German and French. Chyna was a true humanitarian, and served in the U.S. Army ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) and the Peace Corps, helping to teach illiterate third-world children to read. She was a strong supporter of the National Animal Rescue charity, which helps domesticated animals find good, loving homes.
Throughout her life, Chyna dreamed of being an entertainer. She began that career in the early 1990s, as a belly dancer, and soon moved on to fitness competitions, but at 6’0″ the star found her real calling in the entertainment world: professional wrestling. She began training to be a professional under the guidance of the wrestling legend Walter ‘Killer’ Kowalski, in a professional wrestling school in which all other students were men. She soon took the world of women’s wrestling by storm and began competing in the PGWA, where she was given the 1996 Rookie of the Year award for the Women’s Championship.
After dominating the world of women’s wrestling, Chyna was discovered by Paul Levesque (aka “Triple H”) and Shawn Michaels (HBK), two WWF (World Wrestling Federation) superstars who helped Chyna break into the big-time. She made her worldwide television debut in February 1997 as a bodyguard for Triple H, but soon went on to break all gender stereotypes by competing with some of the toughest men in the WWF, under the name “Chyna”. Years later, she was the only woman to qualify for the Royal Rumble and King of the Ring tournaments, and became the only female Intercontinental Champion and the only undefeated Women’s Champion in WWF history.
Five years after she debuted as a professional wrestler in the WWF, Chyna parted ways with the company. She then toured Japan, taking the country by storm and battling in the ring with the likes of such champions as Keiji Mutô, The Great Kabuki, and most notably, Masahiro Chôno. Her 2002 Tokyo Dome match against Chono earned her the title of Nikkian Sport’s 2002 Women’s Wrestler of the Year.
Meanwhile, back in the US, Chyna appeared in several films, hosted a variety of shows, and showed that women can combine strength and beauty in two top-selling issues of “Playboy” magazine, which proved to the world that women can be beautiful without having the anorexic “Twiggy” look. She also appeared in the first-ever Playboy documentary, which conducted in-depth interviews with Chyna, her former manager Rich Minzer, her friend Joe Gold, and Hugh Hefner himself.
Her strong will to the best and “survival of the fittest” attitude made her one of the top wrestlers in history. She served as a role model to millions of men and women by proving anything is possible, through hard work and determination. In her best-selling autobiography “If They Only Knew”, she discussed what it took to make it to the top, and showed the world what she had to overcome to make her one of the most well-known pop culture icons in the world. Shortly after her first appearance in “Playboy”, she released her own fitness video, Chyna Fitness: More Than Meets the Eye (2000), which won awards from fitness and lifestyle magazines. The video is still popular with both Chyna’s fans and fitness fans alike.
Unlike most former pro wrestlers, Chyna had success on her own two feet. She was on nearly every talk show, and was featured on hundreds of magazine covers, from “Playboy” and “Newsweek” to “TV Guide” and “People”. She was featured on Reggie Benjamin’s CD “2X-Centrix”, performing drums and back up vocals. She was on the top of the “dance music” billboard charts for five weeks with the CD single “Ride”, and also sang with her own rock band, “The Chynna Dolls”, for a short time, playing venues like The Roxy, Elrey Theater, Hollywood Athletic Center, and two performances on Howard Stern (1994). She starred in the comedies Cougar Club (2007) and Illegal Aliens (2007), and also hosted a variety of shows, from Robot Wars: Extreme Warriors (2001) to FYE and AMC’s “Tough Guys series. She had many guest-starring roles on TV series, such as Whose Line Is It Anyway? (1998), 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996), Pacific Blue (1996), The Nick Cannon Show (2002), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996), MADtv (1995), MTV’s “Diary” and many others. She was also featured on season four of The Surreal Life (2003) and VH1’s spin off, The Surreal Life: Fame Games (2007), as well as in films, including Alien Tracker (2003), Alien Fury: Countdown to Invasion (2000), Frank McKlusky, C.I. (2002), Hunter: Back in Force (2003). In 2008, she appeared on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (2008) TV series to conquer personal demons and depression caused from an abusive relationship and childhood trauma.
In 2009, she released a fashion book, “Paper Doll”, which became a best-seller. In May 2011, she returned to the world of wrestling with TNA, debuting on the May 12 edition of TNA iMPACT! Wrestling (2004), and followed it up with one last match at the TNA TNA: Sacrifice (2011) Pay-per-view, where she and Kurt Angle took on Jeff Jarrett and Karen Jarrett. The episode was one of the highest-rated for the company in many years. Although her match with TNA was a one-time-only deal, Chyna showed the world she had turned her life around – she had overcome depression, emotional trauma and was finally where she wanted to be in life.
In June 2011, Chyna released her first adult video with Vivid Entertainment, Backdoor to Chyna (2011), which sold over a million copies. She said the movie allowed her to regain control of her life, gave her a newfound confidence and got her back on her feet. She embarked on a huge media tour, appearing all over the US. She began feature dancing at high-end nightclubs, appeared on dozens of radio shows, including Howard Stern on Demand (2005) and ABC radio, and in November 2011 won a Fleshbot Award for her “Backdoor to Chyna” video. In 2012, she appeared in A Night at the Silent Movie Theater (2012) and appeared in the music video “Gonna Make You Love Me” for the band Lovechild. She also appeared in a tell-all interview with KayFabe Commentaries, in which she discussed everything from her childhood to drugs, porn and everything in between.
Chyna died on April 20, 2016, in Redondo Beach, California. She was 46.
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