Joanie "Chyna" Laurer (Screenshot: YouTube)

Under the name Chyna, a moniker given to her by WWE CEO and chairman Vince McMahon, raven-haired wrestler Joanie Laurer made her professional debut at the age of 27 in 1997, becoming an international sensation. Her muscular physique challenged traditional ideas about feminine beauty, and she even appeared in the pages of Playboy. In April 2016, however, Laurer died from a possible drug overdose, and her manager scattered her ashes into the Pacific Ocean from an urn “adorned with spiked metal studs and hot-pink rhinestones.” What went wrong here, exactly? Writer Jason King investigates the story for a Bleacher Report piece entitled “The Great Fall Of Chyna: How WWE’s Greatest Female Wrestler Disappeared.” As the article reveals, Laurer did not retreat into obscurity by choice; in fact, she made numerous comeback attempts during her final years. The problem was that she simply couldn’t stay sober, despite good-faith efforts of relatives, friends, and professional associates.

The reasons behind Laurer’s fall are many, and there are no easy answers or quick solutions. As King sees it, the famed female wrestler never really conquered the mental illness at the heart of her addiction. Born in Rochester, New York, in 1969, Laurer had a traumatic childhood marred by poverty and violence. Her philandering father physically attacked her mother, who in turn kicked a 16-year-old Laurer out of the house for marijuana use. Laurer coped with the sadness and powerlessness she felt by going to the gym and lifting weights. Bodybuilding got her the attention and adoration she’d never received as a child, and her godlike physique landed her the job of a lifetime in the WWE.

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But Laurer parted ways with McMahon a few years later in a contract dispute, and that seems to have been the beginning of the end for her. The vitamins and protein shakes of her wrestling days were replaced with drugs and alcohol. King relates strange anecdotes of Laurer’s downward spiral, including the time she let a homeless man live in her apartment and the time she moved to Japan in a desperate attempt to correct the course she was on. It seems a combination of Valium and Ambien killed her earlier this year. By her sister’s account, “Joanie disappeared a long time ago.”