According to the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner, former WWE star and women’s wrestling pioneer Chyna’s April death was caused by a combination of drugs and alcohol, per Pro Wrestling Sheet.
An in-depth story by Vice however details how Chyna’s attempted return to fame only brought about her downfall, and eventual death.
Falling off the wagon
The former WWE wrestler, “Chyna” aka Joanie Laurer, reportedly reconnected with Anthony Anzaldo in 2015, who was a successful promoter that called her a “partner” and noted he never worked as her manager but was plotting her comeback.
He planned out the “Reconstruction of Chyna,” after she had reportedly sobered up in Japan in 2013. By the fall of 2015, Chyna returned to America with Anzaldo to begin work on the project. Five days after her return, she reportedly went out for a night alone, and came back smelling like booze.
Erik Angra, a documentarian who worked with Chyna, noted a few days later he noticed a Japanese pill container she was carrying around, per the report:
“She was like, oh, [it’s] Rohypnol,” Angra says. “She was also on Valium and on Ambien—that’s a lot. Nobody needs to be on that many drugs.”
Angra reportedly partied with Chyna later in Las Vegas which he says has caused him to grapple with guilt following her death, per Vice.
WWE later contacted Angra about paying for Chyna’s rehab, according to the report. The option was reportedly pitched to Anzaldo, who later turned it down. Here’s what Angra told Vice about his interaction on possibly sending Chyna to rehab:
“He said she would never go, which might have been true because she was very paranoid about the WWE,” Angra says. “She thought they would kidnap her and put her in the woods, and she would never come back. I don’t know if [Anzaldo] told her about [the offer from the WWE], but he basically told me there wasn’t time on the schedule for it and they had to do [a filming of an episode of the reality TV show] Botched.”
But that’s not the worst of it.
Anzaldo later said he delayed intervening on Chyna’s drug problem because he was negotiating a deal to appear on a reality show, Intervention.
No intervention happened, and mere months later, Chyna passed away.
According to Chyna’s manager, Anthony Anzaldo, the former WWE women’s wrestler passed away thanks to a lethal combination of Valium and Ambien, per LA Times.
“Chyna had been taking the legally prescribed pills over the course of three weeks, but wasn’t using them properly, he said. Her death was the result of an accidental overdose, Anzaldo insisted, not suicide.”
According to the Chyna’s manager via People Magazine, she likely passed away from an overdose on Monday, a full two days before her body was found. While Chyna had not talked to anyone since Sunday, she did send out a tweet on Monday suggesting that she was alive until at least then.
A prior report by Pro Wrestling Sheet detailed that Chyna was extremely broken up about not receiving an invite to WWE’s Hall of Fame ceremony in Dallas, which is why she began drinking heavily.
A pioneer of wrestling
Laurer was not just a former professional wrestler; she was a legitimate pioneer in the industry. Billed at almost 6-feet tall and 200 pounds, Laurer literally towered over almost every female in the profession.
Her frame earned her the nickname “The Ninth Wonder of the World”, and her association with the stable D-Generation-X — with Triple H and Shawn Michaels — turned her into a very popular character for WWE.
Where Laurer really became transcendent was in 1999, as she became the first woman to enter the WWE’s Royal Rumble match.
This was the start of a major push for her character, where the WWE presented her as a legitimate challenger to male competition. Later in the year, she was even named the No. 1 contender for the WWF Championship — the top title professional wrestling. Rumors have circulated that the WWE had planned to have her win the title, but those storylines apparently broke down by the annual SummerSlam event.
Those opportunities for Laurer were not completely lost, however. On October 17, 1999, Laurer made history, becoming the first — and only — woman to win the WWE’s Intercontinental Championship, a title that is seen as the second most prestigious title in the entire company.
She would later lose the title to Chris Jericho, but the championship reign is often recognized as a major stepping stone for female athletes, both in and out of professional wrestling.
Laurer would leave the WWE in 2001 over personal issues and disagreements with upper WWE management, namely the McMahon family. She would later pursue a career in adult films, and would eventually experience issues with substance abuse.