Joanie 'Chyna' Laurer: 1970-2016

I woke to the sad news today that wrestling legend Joanie 'Chyna' Laurer has sadly passed away. The star, who was only 45, was found in her house in Redondo Beach, CA after returning recently from Japan. While much focus on her life will be about what happened after her WWE career, it is important to remember the wrestler 'Chyna.'

Her personal Twitter page released an official statement, "It is with deep sadness to inform you today that we lost a true icon, a real life superhero ... She will live forever in the memories of her millions of fans and all of us that loved her.". Chyna was a woman who became known as being able to walk in a man’s world and would often match the men in the ring.

Though her real name is Joanie Laurer, she became Chyna in 1997 when she joined WWE. She was trained by Killer Kowalski before entering the shows as a bodyguard for Triple H. She soon became an integral part of D-Generation X. Her towering presence was unique and gave women’s wrestling a new edge. She competed against some of the biggest names in the business, going one-on-one with names such as The Rock, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and The Undertaker.

In 1999, she achieved a feat no woman has ever accomplished since, winning the Intercontinental Championship. She was also the only woman in contention for a WWE Championship belt; all because of her impressive physique. Unfortunately, her WWE career was cut short for reasons that are still not 100 percent clear. It is believed that she was in a relationship with Triple H until he started dating Stephanie McMahon. 

Chyna believed that Stephanie’s father and CEO Vince McMahon pushed her out to avoid any personal conflicts. This is denied but is the most likely reason. Stephanie McMahon was one of the first WWE executives to pass on condolences on Twitter, “I just heard the tragic news that @ChynaJoanLaurer has passed. She was truly a pioneer in our industry, and she will be missed. #RIPChyna.”

Chyna was left in a terrible position of being unable to use the name she built up. She turned to other industries to make her living, going under the name Chynna Doll for a period. She had a quick run in TNA alongside old friends Kurt Angle and Mick Foley in 2011. She was last known to be teaching English in Japan.

Chyna broke down gender barriers when it came to wrestling. She proved that a woman can share the ring with any man. The Divas division owes it success to pioneers like Chyna and now can boast focus on it at events such as Wrestlemania like never before. There may not be anyone like her in the division at the moment but the increased awareness of women in WWE.

I will leave the last words to her stablemate, ex-boyfriend and the man who scouted her, Triple H. “Someone who wasn't afraid to blaze her own trail & create a path for those who would follow. A pioneer whose star shined bright. #RIPChyna,”

JF Mason