WWE: The Lonesome Death of Joan Laurer


The world of sports entertainment provides us with treasured memories and an escape from everyday stress. But these superstars are not immune from troubles of their own.

No other wrestler did more for the WWE women’s division than Joan Marie Laurer (AKA Chyna). To date, she is the only woman to win the Intercontinental Championship and she did so twice. She captured the Women’s Championship once. She was the first woman to ever be an entrant in the Royal Rumble, the first woman to qualify for King of the Ring, and was the first woman to be the number one contender for the WWE Championship. Chyna didn’t just break the glass ceiling; she shattered it, ground the shards into dust and rubbed them in the eyes of everyone who was afraid to book a woman over a man.

She was 46 years old when she died.

What made Chyna unique was not just how dominant she was in a company traditionally dominated by men, but how she consistently re-invented herself without sacrificing those traits that earned her fame. Upon her arrival in the WWE, she was seen as little more than a silent enforcer for D-Generation X, but fans wanted to know more about this muscle-bound Amazonian who normally stood stoically behind the motormouths of Triple H and Shawn Michaels. As her popularity grew, she broke that mold and cast herself as a strong singles competitor while still retaining traces of her femininity. She questioned the very idea of what it means to be a champion in the women’s division by embodying both strength and sexuality, two things that normally didn’t mix during the Attitude Era.

During the Monday Night Wars, the women of professional wrestling were expected to be sexy and graceful, even during their matches. The women of WWE were meant to display their physical assets during a “bra and panties match” but few people cared whether or not they had any actual wresting ability. Chyna rejected the notion that she couldn’t be both and overwhelmed her opponents with brutally powerful moves while simultaneously undergoing cosmetic surgery to soften her physical features. Chyna wasn’t “beautiful” in the traditional sense that was sold by the WWE and, somewhat ironically, that is exactly what made her beautiful. She had a look that was genuinely all her own.

Despite her accomplishments, personal troubles both during and after WWE (most notably her career in the adult film industry) have landed Chyna on the infamous blacklist. This means her inclusion in the WWE Hall of Fame is likely going to have to wait until Vince McMahon relinquishes control of the company to either Stephanie McMahon or Triple H. It’s no secret that before the end of his real-life relationship with Laurer, Triple H had begun dating Stephanie. How much this love triangle played into Laurer’s departure from the company is still debated based on varying accounts from that time, but it undoubtedly made things uncomfortable backstage. To their credit, both Stephanie and Triple H have publicly stated that Chyna deserves a place in the Hall of Fame so her inclusion may just be a matter of time.

Laurer was found dead in her home by her manager, Anthony Anzaldo, on April 20th, 2016. She was normally quite active on social media and when her feeds went silent, Anzaldo knew something was wrong. An autopsy confirmed that her death was the result of a mixture of alcohol, anxiety drugs, painkillers, and sleeping pills. Even in death, Laurer may have found a way to blaze a new trail for the health of athletes everywhere. Her brain was donated to science in order to further the study of the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy and her ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.

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Since its creation over 2000 years ago, porcelain has been regarded as the most prestigious and expensive form of pottery due to it being simultaneously delicate and incredibly resilient. This material – more commonly referred to as “china” – was highly sought after by Chinese royalty due to the difficulty and artisanship that went into creating even the smallest of pieces. In 2010, a 16-inch porcelain vase crafted near modern-day Shanghai sometime between 1735 and 1796 sold at an auction in London for $85.9 million. Like her namesake, Joan Laurer was equal parts strength and vulnerability. She was as unique as she was invaluable. She stood toe-to-toe with her male counterparts and challenged them to keep up. Her work ethic represented everything we loved about the Attitude Era and every single woman in the WWE owes her a debt of gratitude.