The Great Fall of Chyna

How WWE’s Greatest Female Wrestler Disappeared

By Jason King

September 15, 2016

Bleacher Report

He crouched at the back of the 70-foot yacht, tightening his grip on the urn as he extended it over the Pacific Ocean.

Adorned with spiked metal studs and hot-pink rhinestones spelling out CHYNA, the vase would’ve seemed gaudy in most circles. But for a mink coat-wearing WWE icon muscular and imposing enough to be dubbed “The Ninth Wonder of the World,” it couldn’t have been more fitting.

“You getting this?” the wrestler’s manager, Anthony Anzaldo, said as he scattered his client’s ashes into the saltwater. A videographer nodded and moved in tighter.

“OK, have you done the slow-motion shot yet?” Anzaldo said, pausing before he dumped more of the remains.

In some ways, this is how Joanie Laurer would’ve imagined her final send-off: the bedazzled urn, the $1,500-an-hour boat, the extravagant burial at sea just three miles from her home in Redondo Beach—all of it captured on film for a documentary about her life.

From the time she made her WWE debut as Chyna in 1997 to the moment this April when she posted a YouTube video of herself chugging a spinach smoothie just hours before a lethal drug overdose at age 46, Laurer always welcomed the spotlight.

At times, some say, she craved it.

Still, according to dozens of people who knew her the best, including many who tried to save her, the scene on the yacht also magnified the part of Laurer’s life that was missing—the part that had long been hollow.

Kicked out of her home at age 16, Laurer hadn’t seen her mother in 30 years. She cut off communication with her sister more than a decade ago, infuriated at the suggestion that she enter a drug rehabilitation facility.

Laurer cherished the identity and acceptance she found in WWE, where former colleagues say she became one of the most popular wrestlers on the roster. But she alienated many of them after leaving the company in 2001, when her life began a 14-year spiral peppered with arrests, porn films, reality shows, suicide attempts and videos on TMZ.

The health nut whose gym bag was stuffed with protein powders and vitamins began swigging Jack Daniel’s, smoking Marlboros and popping Valium. A concerned friend went to check on Laurer and discovered the former Playboy model—who once earned more than $1 million in a single year—living with a homeless man in a tiny apartment void of furniture, save for a naked air mattress on the living room floor.

In 2013, the former role model who one colleague said “did more for the empowerment of women than Billie Jean King” was discovered bloodied from self-inflicted knife wounds in the streets of Tokyo. Laurer, a friend recalled, swung her weapon at responding police officers, who tackled her, put her in handcuffs and drove her to a mental hospital. She would spend the next month “locked up in a confined room.”

“It’s one of the most disheartening illustrations I’ve ever seen of what mental illness and drug abuse can do to a person,” WWE Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim Ross said. “The saddest part is that, at her core, Joanie Laurer was a very loving, sweet person—a gentle soul.

“She just couldn’t overcome her demons.”

Two months after her death, no family members traveled to Redondo Beach for Laurer’s public memorial service on June 22 or her burial the next morning.

Instead, as the ashes of the most famous female pro wrestler in history danced away into the Pacific, her mourners included the manager and his four children, an ex-boyfriend she hadn’t seen in 11 years, a rented preacher reciting a prayer off a wrinkled notecard and two members of Laurer’s social media team she had never met.


As she snorted the crystal meth, Joanie Laurer could hear the pounding on the door, but she wouldn’t let her sister inside.

Earlier that afternoon in March 2003, Kathy Hamilton had arrived unannounced at Laurer’s condo in Marina del Rey, California, and pleaded with her sister to seek help for her addiction. Laurer screamed and cursed at Hamilton for hours before barricading herself in the bathroom to get high.

“I didn't recognize the person I saw that day,” says Hamilton, who had come from her home in New Hampshire. “It was like the devil had invaded Joanie’s body.”

Later that evening, with the help of an interventionist, Hamilton convinced Laurer to check into the Chateau Recovery Center in Utah. A private plane flew the sisters to Salt Lake City, and they arrived at the facility around midnight. Five minutes later, as staff members attempted to greet her in the lobby, Laurer went on a profanity-laced tirade and stormed out.

“I don’t know why the f--k I’m here,” she screamed. “I’m not doing this.”

Laurer flew home the next morning and never spoke to Kathy again. For years, though, she sent threatening messages via voicemail, postcard and fax.

“I can’t believe you deserted me.”

“You’re going to pay for this.”

“I’m going to come get you.”

“I lived in fear of my sister for a long time,” Kathy says. “I was literally scared she was going to show up at my front door with a knife or a gun.”

“I didn't recognize the person I saw that day. It was like the devil had invaded Joanie’s body.” 

In Hamilton, Laurer lost not only her sister, but also her best friend, the only one who had supported her during tough times. Goodness knows, there were plenty of them.

Growing up in Rochester, New York, the Laurer children weren’t close with their biological parents, Janet and Joe. The couple lived on welfare, bouncing from one low-rent apartment to another. Twice a year Janet’s mother and father drove their grandkids to Sears to buy them clothes—three outfits each for Kathy, Sonny and little Joanie to wear to school, where they qualified for the free lunch program. Compassionate neighbors occasionally paid for the family’s groceries.

An alcohol and gambling addict, Joe Laurer cheated on his wife, often disappearing for days at a time. When he got home, he beat Janet in front of their children.

Kathy remembers one drunken episode when her father chased Janet through the apartment with a butcher knife, stabbing her in the leg. As the police led him away, she recalled, Joe yanked off his wedding ring and threw it into the yard.

Janet was on her third husband by the time she kicked Joanie out of the house at 16, furious after catching her daughter with marijuana. The two never saw each other again.

“She was done being a parent and done being stressed out,” Kathy says of her mother, with whom she hasn’t spoken in 20 years. “She just gave up.”

Laurer moved in with her father and finished high school without many friends. After graduating from the University of Tampa in 1991, she spent time in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. She worked as a cocktail waitress at a Tampa gentleman’s club and delivered singing telegrams. She helped sell cars and trained to be a flight attendant. Nothing seemed to stick.

The one constant, however—the one thing that gave her solace—was weightlifting.

Laurer’s interest in bodybuilding started during her teenage years, when she often went to the health club after school and stayed until it closed. But it became an obsession after she left Florida and moved in with Kathy in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Whenever she wasn’t selling beepers or teaching aerobics, Laurer was at The Workout Club with her sister. It was there Laurer met and started dating her personal trainer, Gerry Blais.

Six days a week, Blais would wake up Joanie at 4:30 a.m. and drive her to the gym. Early-morning lifts were followed by boxing sessions in the afternoon. At night, Joanie would cram 80 pounds of weights into her backpack, drape it over her shoulders and then spend 30 minutes on the StairMaster.

It wasn’t uncommon, Blais says, for the 5’10” Laurer to squat 450 pounds a dozen times. She could bench multiple reps of 315 pounds. Her meals almost always consisted of fish or chicken, protein powder and vitamins. Once a week, on Sundays, Blais allowed Laurer to slip into a “carb coma”: blueberry pancakes, pizza, apple pie with ice cream—anything she wanted.

Laurer had gone from 155 to 185 pounds—“all natural, all pure muscle,” Blais says—in a matter of months.

Everywhere Joanie and Kathy went, people stared. Competitors on the fitness contest circuit suggested they become a pro wrestling tag team—“a sister act,” they said, and Kathy laughed.

Joanie, though, was intrigued.   

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Laurer during competition in 1995

Wearing blond wigs and sleeveless tops to show off their physiques, Joanie and Kathy attended a WWE event in Malden, Massachusetts. Their presence created a sideshow, with fans turning away from the ring to gawk at the chiseled women in the crowd. Kathy wasn’t comfortable with the attention, but Joanie loved it. For the first time in her life, she felt powerful.

“They’re looking at us like we’re someone,” Joanie said.

The following day, she and Blais made the 95-mile drive back to Malden to meet Wladek “Killer” Kowalski, then a 68-year-old WWE Hall of Famer who ran a wrestling school in the area.

“From the minute we walked through that door, he couldn’t stop staring at Joanie,” Blais says. “He had this look in his eyes like, She’s different. She’s special. It was the weirdest chemistry I’ve ever seen. He knew. He just knew.”

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Laurer and Wladek “Killer” Kowalski

Laurer began training with Kowalski and wrestling for his independent promotion, where her first match was against a man dressed as a woman, complete with makeup, a blonde wig and a goofy ring name: Snooki.

As word of her build and athleticism began to spread, Laurer drove to a WWE show in Massachusetts in January of 1997, watched the matches from the stands and then waited for an hour outside the locker room after the event ended. When stars Shawn Michaels and Paul Levesque—aka Triple H—emerged, Laurer introduced herself and expressed interest in joining the company. After a brief discussion a storyline was born: Laurer could pose as a female bodyguard for some of the company’s biggest stars.

Triple H loved the idea and was confident his bosses would too. With other promotions also reaching out, an opportunity seemed imminent.

“She came home that night and never slept,” Blais says. “We knew her life was about to change. She was so excited.

“And also a little scared.”


The phone call came shortly after 6 a.m. from New York’s Times Square.

“Kathy, wake up,” Joanie told her sister in January 2001. “I’m in the back of a limousine, on my way to be on Good Morning America.”

Now in her fourth year with the WWE, Laurer’s voice was filled with energy. “Chyna”—the nickname given to her by company President Vince McMahon—was experiencing a level of popularity she never could’ve fathomed.

Two months earlier, an issue of Playboy magazine with Laurer on the cover reportedly sold more than a million copies. Her autobiography, If They Only Knew, had reached the New York Times bestseller list, and she’d appeared on The Tonight Show as well as the covers of Newsweek and TV Guide.

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Laurer's November 2000 Playboy cover

“She felt like she’d really made it,” Kathy says. “She loved being treated like a rock star.”

And living like one.

Almost immediately after she signed with WWE in 1997, Laurer’s wardrobe transitioned from pullovers and sweat pants to minks and designer jeans. She’d purchased a baby grand piano and replaced her Ford Probe and its bent antenna with a cherry-red Audi.

Some of Kathy’s favorite memories are of giggling with Joanie late into the night as they used her sister’s credit card to purchase thousands of dollars’ worth of lingerie from a Victoria’s Secret catalog, the two taking turns ordering an item apiece.

Ross, the broadcaster who also served as the WWE’s head of talent, estimated that Laurer’s total earnings in 2000 surpassed $1 million.

“The business had never seen anything like her,” Ross says.

Before Chyna, women in pro wrestling were dismissed by a male-dominated industry as sex objects, all skimpy outfits and novelty appeal for video games and posters in teenagers’ bedrooms.

Laurer was completely different. Now bench-pressing 365 pounds, her blend of size and strength was so extreme that she felt awkward in the ring with other women and feared she would injure them.

WWE execs went to McMahon with a suggestion. Andre the Giant had already been dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” The Ninth Wonder would wrestle men.

Joanie Laurer at SummerSlam in 1999 (AP Photo/David Sherman)

Whether it was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin selling a forearm to the face, Mick Foley letting her powerslam him into a metal staircase or Jeff Jarrett losing his intercontinental title to her in 1999, male wrestlers did not challenge storylines that called for Chyna to get the best of them during a match.

“Initially, a lot of old-timers, including myself, didn’t think it was appropriate,” Ross says. “But she overcame all of that apprehension and proved people wrong. Chyna was a trailblazer. She broke all kinds of barriers.”

Early in her career, Laurer was teased mercilessly at arenas and on internet message boards for her “masculine” features. On a few occasions the taunts—“You’re a man! Do you have a penis?”—drove Laurer to tears, her sister said. Howard Stern once called Laurer a man in disguise.

Determined to soften her appearance, Laurer took time off from the WWE in 1999 to have breast-enhancement surgery and, later, to get a nose job and to have her jaw broken and shaved down because she felt it was too square. Laurer’s new look made her a double-headed sex symbol—snarling mid-bodyslam one day, posing in bright red lipstick and a thong the next.

After three decades of drifting, Laurer had finally discovered her calling. For the first time in her life, the once-neglected child felt like part of a family.

She spent holidays with WWE colleagues and their relatives, not hers. There were trips to visit troops in Iraq and post-match meals at 24-hour diners, where Laurer’s guttural laugh ricocheted off the walls.

She gave a WWE action figure to Roddy Piper’s 10-year-old son and comforted him while his dad took a beating in the ring. When Foley brought his five-year-old daughter, Noelle, to the arena, Laurer took her to the makeup room to have her nails done.

“Chyna was a trailblazer. She broke all kinds of barriers.”

Ross said it was obvious Laurer viewed her position with the WWE as more than a job.

“It was a sanctuary for her, a comfort zone,” Ross says. “It built her self-esteem. The professional part of her life became a large part of her personal life.”

Shortly after signing with WWE, Laurer broke up with Blais, the personal trainer, and began dating Levesque, who had blossomed into one of the company’s top stars as Triple H. The couple lived together for more than three years and were inseparable on the road.

In an industry where wrestlers often become addicted to alcohol and painkillers, Laurer and Levesque practiced a clean lifestyle and spent most of their free time in the gym.

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Joanie Laurer and Paul Levesque aka Triple H

But around 2000 the relationship began to fizzle. Friends say Levesque wanted children; Laurer did not. She was also jealous of the time Levesque spent with his parents and siblings during the rare days the WWE wasn’t on the road.

When she sensed Levesque was growing closer with Stephanie McMahon—the boss’ daughter, whom he later married in 2003—Laurer was crushed, telling numerous friends she’d searched Levesque’s briefcase and discovered a love letter from Stephanie.

“They wouldn’t have lasted whether Stephanie came into the picture or not,” Kathy says. “I have no animosity toward Paul. He was very good to Joanie. He cared about her deeply, but she just had too many issues.

“Still, I really do think Paul was the only man she ever truly loved. She was devastated.”

Not long after strutting onto that Good Morning America set in 2001, Laurer’s WWE career came to an end. For years she told friends and reporters that the company dumped her because of backstage tension with Levesque and McMahon, but that wasn’t true.

Hamilton says the WWE offered her sister a new contract in the fall of 2001 for $400,000 per year, but she opted not to sign it. Ross confirmed that story, adding that the figure was merely a “downside guarantee” and she could’ve earned significantly more—maybe more than double that amount—from merchandise sales, pay-per-view appearances and other revenue streams.

Still, Laurer wouldn’t accept an offer with a base salary of less than $1 million.

“It was an outrageous demand that wasn’t even realistic,” says Ross, who was hesitant to negotiate with Laurer. But he said Vince McMahon wanted Chyna to remain with the company and was confident her issues with his daughter and Levesque wouldn’t last.

Hamilton can’t help but wonder how different her sister’s life might’ve been had she signed that contract.

“Joanie told me a few years later that she regretted it,” Hamilton says. “The WWE was the only place where she was ever accepted. Once she lost that, she fell into a hole.

“And she never could climb out of it.”


The last time Sean Waltman saw Joanie Laurer alive was in the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

It was January 2005, more than three years after her final match with the WWE, and Waltman feared his girlfriend was suicidal—just as she had been a few weeks earlier, when he discovered she’d checked into a hotel under an alias and attempted to “drink and drug herself to death.”

Somewhere in between, Laurer had been spotted performing a fully nude striptease at Scores for her reality-TV castmate on VH1’s The Surreal Life and jumping naked into a fish tank at The Coral Room—all in the same night.

By that point, Laurer’s drug problem was hardly a secret.

According to friends, she began hanging out at the Playboy Mansion after making her second appearance in the magazine in 2002. Socializing with models and entertainers she met there, Laurer became a regular on the L.A. nightlife scene and began experimenting with the alcohol and drugs she’d always avoided in the WWE, where she was known as a teetotaler.

When Waltman entered her life, the partying intensified. Already battling his own addictions after a recent divorce, Waltman—known to wrestling fans as “X-Pac”—admits he was not in a good state when he began dating Laurer, whom he’d worked with in the WWE.

Joanie Laurer and Sean Waltman during the 2002 Fox Billboard Bash (Photo by Chris Polk/FilmMagic)

“I didn't do her any favors,” Waltman said. “I was so f--ked up I couldn’t even take care of myself. I had no business trying to help someone else.”

Week after week, Laurer and Waltman met up with friends for binges that almost always involved crystal meth—Waltman injected the drug; Laurer either snorted the powder or chugged it with a glass of water.

The meth gave Laurer and Waltman enough energy to stay awake for two or three days straight. Then they’d sleep for 24 hours and do it all over again. Tonia Moore, a former champion bodybuilder, said she used meth with Laurer and Waltman multiple times in 2003 and 2004.

“When you get caught up in that stuff, it feels like you’re in a time warp,” Moore says. “Life doesn’t move forward very much. You sit around and come up with all these ideas but never follow through with any of them.”

When she left WWE, Laurer said her goal was to land modeling gigs and roles on TV shows and movies. But the deeper she plunged into her drug addiction, the more she no-showed casting calls.

“When you get caught up in that stuff [meth], it feels like you’re in a time warp…”

Moore began to worry about her friend in 2003 when Laurer called to say she was throwing away all of her possessions. Moore sped to Laurer’s apartment in Marina del Rey and found her cramming years’ worth of wrestling outfits, magazines, DVDs—even her WWE Women’s World Title belt—into $500 Tumi suitcases. Laurer said she planned to leave them on the curb for strangers. Her friend wouldn’t allow it.

“I told her I’d keep them for her until she was ready to take them back,” Moore says.

Twelve years later, the items are still in Moore’s closet.

With autograph signings as her main income, Laurer complained to friends that she was running out of money and joked about applying for a job at Burlington Coat Factory.

She and Waltman got engaged and filmed a sex tape. Waltman said he made $250,000 from 1 Night in China and estimates Laurer received significantly more—but the teasing and shame that followed drove Laurer deeper into depression.

Waltman said Laurer physically assaulted him twice, breaking his nose the first time before punching him repeatedly in the presence of his children in January 2005, when she was arrested for domestic assault.

“What people need to remember is that she was mentally ill,” Waltman says. “Drugs definitely didn’t help the problem, but she was just using those to self-medicate from the pain that comes from being messed up in the head, from the childhood trauma and other stuff that happened in her life

“I saw some crazy s--t. The shade of her eyes would switch colors. The features in her face would change. She could go from being mean- and scary-looking to looking like a little child in her face and her eyes. She had two personalities.”

Her friends were in love with the other Chyna, the one who adored chihuahuas and played the cello and sang songs from Moulin Rouge! on her karaoke machine. They talk about the month of September 2001, when Laurer packed a suitcase full of Playboys and traveled to New York, popping into fire stations alone to sign autographs and take pictures with Ground Zero first responders. They tell stories about the Chyna who, when she didn’t have enough money for a tip, gave her black mink coat to a mover she had hired off Craigslist.

“People wanted to be her friend because she was a star, because she was Chyna,” says Christian Moralde, an actor and former roommate. “But she was so much more than that. It was impossible to meet her and not fall in love with her.”

It was also impossible, Moralde says, not to ache for Laurer during those moments of clarity when she grasped all that she had lost.

Moralde was in the car with Laurer one day when they passed a Los Angeles billboard featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who had turned a successful stint with the WWE into a blockbuster movie career. Laurer and Johnson had appeared together on the cover of Newsweek in February 2000.

“It’d be difficult,” Moralde says, “to go from the cover of Playboy and ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and seeing your likeness on a building in Times Square to being unemployed—to not have a sense of where you’re going or what you’re going to do next.

“She was struggling to remain relevant.”


When Natasha Bardon arrived at Joanie Laurer’s studio apartment in July 2012, she found a man named Stephen hiding in the kitchen.

Laurer told Bardon she’d met the drifter when he called out to Laurer as she jogged along the beach a few months earlier. Broke and homeless, Stephen told Laurer he had followed her career and that she’d been an inspiration. Laurer offered him a place to stay, and now the two were in love.

“He buttered her up,” Bardon says, “and she fell for it.”

A longtime friend, Bardon had traveled to Redondo Beach from Honolulu that July afternoon sensing trouble. Laurer liked to chat on Facebook and through text messages, but by early 2012, her replies had grown slower, more cryptic, saying only that she was “miserable” and “stuck.”Image title

Laurer in her apartment, 2012 (Courtesy photo)

Arriving unannounced with her infant daughter—whom she’d named Deztinee-Chyna—Bardon walked into a 600-square-foot apartment with no furniture. A blow-up mattress without sheets sat in the middle of the living room, and dirty clothes were strewn across the floor. The stench of whiskey was noticeable as soon as Laurer opened her door, eyelids heavy, face drooped, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in her right hand.

“She was chugging it like it was Gatorade,” Bardon said. “She was beyond drunk. I started crying because I couldn’t believe the Chyna I knew—the Chyna I idolized—was living like that.

“I was scared to even let her hold her goddaughter.”

Bardon walked into the kitchen and found Stephen pressed against a wall, hoping to go unnoticed. Shirtless and disheveled, he introduced himself as Laurer’s boyfriend and then fished her debit card out of her purse, telling Bardon he was going to “pick up Chyna’s medicine.” He finally returned at 7 a.m. the next day, Bardon says, with two more bottles of Jack and a wad of twenties from the ATM.

Laurer later confided to Bardon that Stephen had asked her to marry him. When she declined, he got a tattoo of a wedding band inked around his left ring finger emblazoned with one word: CHYNA.

Laurer and her new boyfriend shared an email address. She told Bardon that Stephen had cut out chunks of her long black hair—and that he’d also persuaded her to cash in a 401(k) for $140,000. Only $20,000 remained, Laurer told her friend.

“He was controlling her,” Bardon says. “He was using her for money and keeping her intoxicated so she wouldn’t know the difference.”

(Stephen did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.)

Bardon had seen enough.

“You’re coming to Hawaii with me,” she told her friend, “and the only answer I’ll accept is yes.”

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Laurer with Natasha Bardon in Hawaii (Courtesy of Natasha Bardon)

The following afternoon Laurer boarded a plane to Honolulu, needing only two duffel bags to carry all of her belongings. She spent Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas with Bardon and her family. She stopped taking Valium and Ambien and drank only in moderation. Then, before New Year’s Eve, Stephen reached Laurer by phone.

“In an instant,” Bardon said, “she went from a beautiful person who was loving life, to ‘F--k it, I just want to drink.’”

Laurer continued expressing anger toward the WWE, particularly because the company had yet to induct her into its Hall of Fame. Bardon reminded her that when she walked into a store, people screamed her name.

“That should be enough,” her friend said.

For Laurer, though, it wasn't.

She told Bardon she was ready to take control of her life. She wanted to start over, she said, and to do so, she needed to move as far away as possible.

“In an instant, she went from a beautiful person who was loving life, to ‘F--k it, I just want to drink.’”

Laurer chose Japan. She’d wrestled there briefly after leaving the WWE and loved the culture and lifestyle. In Japan, she told Bardon, she’d be all alone, free from the drugs and the booze, free from the abusive boyfriends and free from the social media hounds and gossip rags.

By moving to Japan, Laurer wouldn’t be running from her problems—she’d be confronting them. Or at least that was her plan.

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Laurer with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, into which she was baptized in 2014. (Courtesy of LDS S.M.I.L.E.)

Yohei Sato, an independent crude oil trader who was once Laurer’s business manager, was with Laurer on the flight to Tokyo in January 2013. He says she reeked of alcohol and was heavily intoxicated when she boarded the plane and was almost removed from the aircraft.

A few weeks later, Sato says Laurer called him at 10 a.m. and asked him to come to her apartment. When Sato arrived, the door was ajar and Laurer was on the living room floor in a pool of red. She had sliced deep wounds into her forearm, forcing Sato to rush her to the hospital, both of their clothes covered in blood.

Sato says doctors in Tokyo prescribed everything from Xanax to lithium to Ritalin to stabilize Laurer’s moods, but she regularly ingested more than the prescribed dose.

“It was obvious she had mental illness,” Sato says, “and the drugs only made it worse because they made her hallucinate. She’d call me and say the LAPD was outside her apartment with her ex-boyfriend. I’d say, ‘Chyna, we’re in Japan.’”

Police arrested Laurer at 2:49 a.m. one day after she climbed to the top of a pole outside her residence and screamed loud enough to wake the neighbors. When Sato went to pick her up from jail, he says Laurer was telling the Japanese officers that she was a famous wrestler, that the WWE had cheated her out of money and that she was one of the biggest reasons for the company’s success.

“She wanted to make sure everyone knew she’d been a star,” he says.

About a month later, Sato says 12 police cars responded to a call about a woman walking through the streets of Tokyo with blood streaming from her arms and her legs. As a crowd gathered nearby, he says Laurer swung a knife at officers as they approached, forcing them to gang-tackle her and hold her against the concrete until she was handcuffed. Laurer was admitted to Tokyo Metropolitan Matsuzawa Hospital, a facility specializing in mental health.

Word of the episodes spread locally, costing Laurer her part-time job teaching English. She landed similar work at a corporate education center, Sato says, only to be fired when a human resources manager walked into a class and witnessed Laurer teaching students how to kiss.

“She showed up to work intoxicated,” Sato says. “I kept asking her, ‘Why are you doing this, Chyna? Why? Why? Why?’”

Sato tried to help Laurer in 2014 by introducing her to members of the Mormon church. She was baptized on April 6 of that year and joined a women’s service organization.

Still, unable to find steady work and with few friends, Laurer never achieved the inner peace she sought in Japan. Nothing she had hoped to conquer—the alcohol and drugs, the rage at the WWE, the lingering mental health issues—got any better. If anything, they all became worse.

Cradling her chihuahua, Horn, each night in her tiny apartment, Laurer documented her feelings in short videos on her flip phone.

“It’s dark, and it’s cold, and I just wanna get out of here,” she said. “How am I going to get out of here?”


The email—marked “URGENT”—arrived in Dr. Drew Pinsky’s mailbox on November 8, 2015, at 7:08 p.m.

“I have a very serious issue regarding our old friend Chyna. If she doesn’t get help ASAP, she will die. The pills, the booze, it’s bad.”

The message to Pinsky—who had counseled Laurer when she appeared on his reality show Celebrity Rehab in 2008—was written by Anthony Anzaldo, the former manager Laurer had contacted the previous June when she was ready to leave Japan.

Anzaldo had spent the past five months chronicling Laurer’s life on film for a documentary entitled The Reconstruction of Chyna, the footage for which had begun immediately after she stepped off the plane.

“Does anyone remember who I am?” Laurer said as the two left New York’s JFK Airport, a backpack her only piece of luggage. “Show me that people still care.”

Anzaldo drove Laurer into Manhattan, where she was mobbed by autograph-seekers as she passed through Times Square. A few days later, fans at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, chanted her name—Chy-na! Chy-na!—as she took her seat behind the first-base dugout.

When Laurer arrived at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas for a celebrity poker tournament to raise money for cystic fibrosis, one of the benefactors—a young man confined to a scooter—was so moved by her presence that he burst into tears.

“She needed that feeling of acceptance again,” Anzaldo says. “She hadn’t set foot in a ring in 15 years, and she was more famous than ever.”

As happy as they were to see her back in the United States, Laurer’s friends and former colleagues worried she may be embarking on too much, too quickly. They feared she’d be overwhelmed by the documentary, the constant travel for signings and the campaign for the WWE Hall of Fame.

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Laurer attends the Chiller Theatre Expo, October 2015 (Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images)

Blais, who had reconnected with Laurer, says she was “trying to find the magic again.” Mick Foley sensed it, too, as they ate dinner and watched WWE on pay-per-view at his home in Long Island, New York.

“It’s something a lot of wrestlers encounter once their career is over,” he says. “It’s an identity issue. You don’t know what to do next. You try to find ways to make an impact in other areas the same way you did in the ring, but it’s difficult. It’s an incredible feeling that you can’t replace.”

Starting with an interview on the Opie and Anthony radio show just days after her return from Japan, Laurer began lashing out at the WWE to anyone who would listen, spreading the narrative once again that the company had released her back in 2001.

A few weeks later, with Anzaldo’s camera rolling, Laurer showed up at the organization’s corporate office in Stamford, Connecticut, to inquire about money she felt it owed her. They didn’t make it past the receptionist’s desk before security guards escorted them out.

“There were times when we thought she had put it past her,” Anzaldo says, “but she kept reverting back to it. She blamed the WWE for a lot of stuff.”

Laurer still had her encouraging moments.

During stretches of sobriety, she routinely left flowers on her landlord’s doorstep, and she loved interacting with her followers on social media. When a fan at an autograph show noticed the scars on her arms and revealed that he, too, was a cutter, Laurer gave him her phone number, encouraging him to call if he ever needed to talk.

At the August 2015 funeral for “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Laurer came face-to-face with Levesque for the first time since her departure from the WWE. Earlier in the year, on a podcast, Levesque had suggested that Laurer’s appearances in porn films may keep her out of the Hall of Fame. Still, Laurer wrapped her arms around her ex-boyfriend and hugged him tightly.

“I’m so sorry all of this has happened,” she whispered.

“It’s something a lot of wrestlers encounter once their career is over: It’s an identity issue. You don’t know what to do next.”

Laurer recommitted herself to fitness, drinking smoothies and protein shakes multiple times a day while stocking her pantry with vitamins. Muscle-toning classes at Cardio Barre and stretching sessions at Hot Yoga became regular staples. As cameras rolled for E!’s plastic surgery reality show Botched, Laurer had scars on her breasts and her waist removed for good.

“I have all of these appearances coming up,” her yoga instructor, Kimberly Shrednick, remembers Laurer saying. “I know I can’t look exactly like I did, but I still want to look like me. I still want to look like Chyna.”

Yet as motivated as Laurer often appeared, her life continued to resemble a ladder match for a WWE title belt: Each time she neared the top of the steps and reached for the reward dangling above, her addictions—to fame, to drugs, to darkness—sent Chyna tumbling back down.

“She was a binger,” Anzaldo said. “She’d go months without touching drugs and alcohol and then go crazy on it for nine to 10 days. It was one extreme or the other.”

It wasn’t uncommon for Laurer to take multiple doses of Valium and Ambien each day, often chasing them with a $9 bottle of wine called Barefoot Bubbly.

Even though he hadn’t seen Laurer in more than a decade, Waltman continued to hear stories of her drunken episodes from friends. He said he contacted the WWE, and the company agreed to provide the funding for Laurer to enter a rehabilitation facility. But Laurer, through intermediaries, refused the help, Waltman says.

The email from her manager to Pinsky came after Laurer was found unconscious in front of her apartment in November 2015, resulting in her arrest for public intoxication. Laurer, who had nearly $20,000 in her purse from an autograph signing the previous weekend, told police she’d been unable to find her keys.

This March, Anzaldo says Canadian border agents in Windsor, Ontario, ordered him and Laurer out of his car when she was noticeably inebriated as the two attempted to cross into the country from Detroit.

Back home, members of Laurer’s social media team routinely removed drunken rants from YouTube and Twitter.

“I checked the internet every day just to see if Joanie was alive,” her sister says.

She wouldn’t be for much longer.

Anzaldo had spent months trying to convince Laurer to rekindle her relationship with her mother, Janet, who lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The two had already been emailing, and they eventually agreed to meet in Charlotte while Laurer was in town for an autograph show in March.

But just before they were scheduled to reunite, Anzaldo says Laurer became intoxicated and sent Janet a long, offensive email—“spewing,” her manager called it.

Rattled by the message, Janet called Anzaldo on a Friday afternoon and backed out of the meeting.

Laurer was irate. She tipped a maid to sneak bottles of wine to her room at the Sheraton and spent the night drinking in the hotel, causing her to be an hour late for her signing the next day. Anzaldo passed her Altoids under the autograph table, hoping to mask her condition from fans. Laurer refused to speak to him that Saturday, and they sat apart on the flight home to Los Angeles the following morning.

Five days later, Laurer no-showed an autograph signing in Dallas before WrestleMania 32, a decision Anzaldo says cost her $25,000. Laurer claimed she backed out because Vince McMahon and Waltman planned to have her arrested as soon as she walked off the runway at DFW Airport.

On the morning of Sunday, April 17—in what would mark her final form of communication—Laurer posted a 13-minute, six-second video on YouTube that has now been viewed more than two million times.

A feather dangling from her hair, Laurer guzzled an orange energy drink, a glass of water and a spinach smoothie.

She rambled about a health food delivery business she hoped to start and then stepped onto her balcony, where she complained about the whistles and catcalls she often heard from construction workers.

“I’m just kidding,” she said. “I love it.”

Laurer gazed toward the beach across the street, where surfers rode waves in the Pacific.

“It looks like it’s going to be a gorgeous day out there,” she said. “How lucky am I?”

Unbeknownst to Laurer, friends had planned to confront her that week about her substance abuse on the TV show Intervention. But when a cameraman called her on Monday, she didn’t answer the phone. Voicemails and texts the next day weren’t returned, and there were no posts from @ChynaJoanLaurer on social media.

Concerned, Anzaldo drove to Laurer’s apartment on Avenue B and Esplanade around 3:30 p.m. that Wednesday, sneaking past her security gate with the mailman after her landlord refused to buzz him in. Stepping off the elevator onto the fourth floor, Anzaldo approached apartment 407 and knocked on the door.

No answer. He rang the bell. Nothing.

If the door is unlocked, he thought to himself, it means she’s home.

His cellphone camera focused on his hand, Anzaldo reached for the knob, twisted it and stepped into the entryway. Immediately, he noticed an odor.

“It was the smell of death,” Anzaldo says.

He walked past the bathroom and kitchen into the den. Turning to his left, the manager looked through the open doorway of the bedroom. Lying on her right side and tucked neatly under a white down comforter, Laurer appeared to be sleeping peacefully.

Anzaldo could see the top of her forehead, but a pillow obstructed the view of her face. He lifted it away.

“There was no vomit, no blood,” Anzaldo says. “Her eyes were open. She was staring straight ahead.”

Two pill bottles rested on a nightstand next to Laurer’s bed. Although toxicology reports have yet to be released, Anzaldo believes an accidental overdose of Valium and Ambien caused Laurer’s death. It was not, he insists, a suicide.

“She didn’t want to die,” Anzaldo says.

TMZ cameras captured Laurer’s body as it was wheeled toward an ambulance. Anzaldo contacted her family members and close friends, then posted the news on Laurer’s official website,

Kathy Hamilton and Joanie Laurer (Courtesy of Kathy Hamilton)

“All I kept thinking after she died,” her sister says, “was that poor girl. She wanted so badly to be loved and accepted, but she never had a loving, connective relationship with anyone. People just used her and sucked her dry.”

Kathy pauses.

“At least she’s at peace now,” she says. “At least she’s at peace.”


His black hair slicked back into a ponytail, his forehead damp with perspiration, Sean Waltman stood behind a podium at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center and took a deep breath.

“I’m sure some people are probably wondering what the hell I’m doing here,” he said.

Considering he hadn’t seen Laurer since the abrupt end to their relationship in 2005, Waltman’s presence at her June 22 memorial service was indeed a surprise. By the end of his nearly six-minute remarks, it was clear he harbored some guilt over her death.

“I want to say in front of everyone that, Joanie, I’m really, really sorry,” he said. “I hope you forgive me for not taking better care of you.”

A few hours later, over a slice of pepperoni pizza at the Rainbow Bar and Grill in Hollywood, Waltman still seemed shaken.

“I should’ve left her in better shape, but I didn’t and now she’s dead,” Waltman said. “I feel so f--king bad about that.

“As awful as it sounds, in my heart, I knew this was how it would end.”

The rest of the official remembrance of Chyna often felt more like a production—tickets were distributed and T-shirts were sold—than a memorial. Coolio performed. Barry Williams, the guy who played Greg Brady on The Brady Bunch, was there, as were Flick from A Christmas Story and Joey Buttafuoco, who defeated Laurer in a celebrity boxing match in 2002. All of them knew Joanie Laurer, but not really.

Instead the memorial was more about who wasn’t there.

Only about 400 people showed up to pay tribute to a woman who once wrestled before a crowd of 68,000. Laurer’s mother and siblings chose not to make the trip west. The WWE did not send any representatives. Other than Waltman, the only notable wrestlers in attendance were former stars Melina and Rob Van Dam, both of nearby Los Angeles and neither of whom ever worked with Chyna.

The following day, after Anzaldo had dumped the last of Chyna’s remains into the Pacific Ocean and laid the hot-pink urn to rest, a flock of dolphins approached the boat on either side.

All 14 passengers hurried toward the railing with their cameras, gasping as they recorded the mammals jumping in and out of the water—and wondering, perhaps, if this was Laurer’s way of giving them one final memory, one final show.

“Chyna would’ve loved this,” the documentary’s videographer said of the dolphins. “It’s like they’re leading her into her new life.”

Minutes later, as the mourners gathered their belongings and stepped onto the dock, someone asked if the yacht had a name. Smiling gently, the captain nodded.

The Disappearance,” he said.

Halfway across the country in New Hampshire, Laurer’s sister wasn’t sure what to make of that title. Chyna may have vanished into the ocean that day, she said.

“But Joanie disappeared a long time ago.” ◼

Jason King is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at, Yahoo Sports and the Kansas City Star, King's work has received mention in the popular book series The Best American Sportswriting. In both 2015 and 2016, King was tabbed as one of the top five beat writers in the nation by the APSE. Follow him on Twitter: @JasonKingBR

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