The WWE took my Chyna doll away.
The legendary wrestler — who was the only female to have competed against men regularly in the world-famous World Wrestling Entertainment — died at age 46 sometime between April 17 and 18 from an apparent prescription drug overdose at her home in Redondo Beach, Calif.
Chyna, who was born Joanie Laurer in Rochester, N.Y., had been fighting substance abuse in the public’s eye for nearly 15 years.
Standing at 5′-10″ tall and looking like a gothic, weightlifting Xena with more muscles than some of the men she faced, Chyna was known as the Ninth Wonder of the World throughout her illustrious wrestling career. She’s the only woman to have earned the WWE Intercontinental Championship, which she won during a Pay-Per-View match in 1999 against Jeff Jarrett.
She’s also the only woman to have wrestled in Royal Rumble and King of the Ring Pay-Per-View events. At a time when the WWE was locked in a heated television ratings battle with the rival WCW wrestling company, Chyna was a household name even to those who never watched wrestling. Her celebrity stature helped Vince McMahon’s WWE beat out and bankrupt Ted Turner’s WCW.
Despite these historic accomplishments — which revolutionized women’s wrestling — Chyna is suspiciously not listed in the WWE Hall of Fame.
WWE executive vice president Paul Levesque — better known to many wrestling fans as Triple H — told Steve Austin last year why she’s not there. If she were to be inducted, Levesque explained, then he fears his eight-year-old daughter will Google Chyna’s name — inferring he didn’t want his child learning about the wrestler’s involvement in adult films after her WWE career ended.
“It’s not a morality thing or anything else,” Levesque said. “It is just the fact of what it is. That’s a difficult choice.”
His reasoning is unbelievable, especially when you take a peek at the celebrities inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame.
While WWE Hall of Famer Mike Tyson has publically undergone a spiritual makeover — and has been backing Chyna’s Hall of Fame entry — the former boxing champion will forever have a rape conviction over his head. Donald Trump is also among the inducted celebrities.
Despite a strong push from fans as recently as this past year to have her inducted, WWE ultimately turned its back on Chyna. This is why I’ve decided, unfortunately, to turn my back on wrestling.
When news broke that she died, I immediately canceled my subscription to the WWE Network and decided to avoid wrestling until she was finally placed where she belongs.
While I’ve been a lifelong wrestling fan, it wasn’t until Chyna’s death that I learned about how her downfall began following a fallout between herself and Levesque.
They started dating in the 1990s when she broke into wrestling following his promising career at WWE.
Once at the WWE, they formed the groundbreaking faction D-Generation X, led by “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels and later included “X-Pac” Sean Waltman (whom Chyna dated after she left the company, and also helped to define the WWE’s Attitude Era — which featured the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson.
Levesque and Stephanie McMahon, daughter of WWE chairman Mr. McMahon, were later involved in a romantic storyline. The fictitious tale ultimately lead to Levesque’s real life breakup with Chyna in 2001 when he started dating the boss’s daughter in real life and married her in 2003. The couple now has three children.
Chyna lost her job soon after and later made a few adult hardcore films. She claims it was her only way of making a living as the WWE denied her the right to use its trademarked name “Chyna.” The world knew who Chyna was, but they didn’t know Joanie Laurer. At one point, she started to use the name “Chynna Doll” in an effort to get professional work. In 2007, she legally changed her name to “Chyna” following a long legal battle with WWE.
Levesque and the WWE have reportedly denied Chyna’s claims and the company has stated it couldn’t agree on terms when her contract was up for renewal.
She eventually appeared on reality shows, which is where I watched my favorite wrestler’s life spiral out of control. Throughout this public breakdown, I was always rooting for her to get better — hoping, as often things do in wrestling storylines — that her life would end up taking a turn for the better.
In recent years, she had been working on a documentary to outline her progress in turning her life around.
I interviewed Chyna’s manager and close friend, Anthony Anzaldo, about a week after she died. He was very generous with his time and told me the whole story, which has been widely reported since her death, including how he found her body “peacefully” in her bedroom April 20 with two prescription bottles of Ambien and a form of Valium nearby.
He said he believes she “overdosed accidentally over a three week period” as she was “facing issues she had gone through in her life” with the help of therapy and a domestic violence group for women. (Chyna claimed Levesque and Waltman abused her, allegations both men have publically denied).
An intervention was also in the works, too.
“She got to close her eyes on Sunday and take her last breath,” Anzaldo said. “She died happy. Nobody should feel sorry for Chyna.”
The Ninth Wonder of the World had also been doing hot yoga and practicing the cello throughout the documentary, which is expected to be released in 2017 carrying a storyline Anzaldo said is similar to the movie “Rocky.”
“We will show the tragedy, but also the triumph,” he said. “She was going to wrestle one more match — that was going to be the end of the movie — but we had to get her well first.”
When I asked him why fans like myself shouldn’t be sour on WWE for not inducting her into the Hall of Fame while she was alive, Anzaldo said: “Don’t be upset because she doesn’t need a ring to validate where she belonged in professional wrestling.”
A few days before she died, she responded to a Facebook comment from someone asking her to stop looking for closure from WWE since the company didn’t deserve her.
“Not begging anyone to do anything, babe,” Chyna responded. “I want Hall of Fame for my fans and to be recognized for what I did in the business — nothing more. I have [a] desire to be wrestling again.”
In a tearful tribute the day after news broke that Chyna died, former WWE writer Vince Russo said he’s not sure if her induction would have done anything for her since he believed she was “a full-blown addict.”
“But what would have it cost the WWE to give her that closure?” he asked during his podcast. “She just wanted to feel loved.”
Former wrestlers and Hall of Famers Mick Foley — a Long Island native known to many as Mankind — and Steve Austin shared genuine thoughts on the Hall of Fame controversy following Chyna’s death.
“If Chyna is not an inductee, don’t be sad,” Foley wrote on his Facebook page. “The real Hall of Fame is inside all of us. It’s a Hall of Fame based on the way superstars made us feel, the smiles they produced, the memories they created for us, the legacies they forged that will stand the test of time.”
“I know Chyna had her issues after she left the WWE,” Austin said during his April 28 podcast. “But, man, she had made a comeback from that and I thought she earned the right to be in the Hall of Fame. And to put her in there posthumously, it’s just not good enough.
“I don’t think it’ll ever be right because she didn’t go into the Hall of Fame while she was alive, living and breathing with us.”
Given how fans contributed to the campaign’s momentum of having her inducted this year, I believe it would have been so nice if she was given the opportunity to experience that honor she rightfully deserved.
I still haven’t heard any good reasons why she’s out of the Hall of Fame and find it hard to believe Levesque is really concerned about his daughter finding out about a wrestler’s past some may deem as vulgar.
And if you don’t remember what Triple H’s hardcore catchphrase was during his Attitude Era heyday, then I’ve got two words for ya: Google it.
Jen Nuzzo is an editor at Times Review Media Group in Mattituck, N.Y. She’s a Stony Brook University School of Journalism graduate and former contributor to The Stony Brook Press. Follow her rants about wrestling, comics and writing on Twitter @jengust.