One of the most important females in the history of professional wrestling passed away on Wednesday with the death of Chyna. The former WWE superstar, whose real name was Joan Marie Laurer, was found dead in her Redondo Beach, California, apartment at the age of 45.
Chyna left WWE 14 years ago, and she hasn’t been involved in professional wrestling for a few years. But her impact was long-lasting, doing things that had never been done before and paving the way for future female wrestlers.
— Stephanie McMahon (@StephMcMahon) April 21, 2016
Shattered glass ceilings, kicked down doors, broke gender barriers, she was an anomaly & untouchable. Rest now-ur legacy lives on #RIPChyna
— Trish Stratus (@trishstratuscom) April 21, 2016
Chyna was fearless to no man & a huge part of #womenswrestling her impact will never be forgotten. thoughts & prayers are with her family _
— Charlotte (@MsCharlotteWWE) April 21, 2016
Known as the “Ninth Wonder of the World,” Chyna joined WWE after two years of wrestling as "Joanie Lee" at Wladek "Killer" Kowalski's professional wrestling school, according to varied reports. She first appeared in WWE—then WWF—on Feb.17, 1997, making an immediate impact on a brand that has been historically male-dominated since its inception in 1952. She teamed up with Shawn Michaels and Triple H to become one of the original members of D-Generation X. The group ended up being one of the most influential factions in WWE history, and as the only female, Chyna played an integral role.
With female superstars becoming known for their wrestling ability rather than their looks over the last few years, WWE started what it dubbed the “Divas Revolution.” But Chyna was a pioneer, starting a revolution of her own two decades earlier.
The Women’s Championship became inactive when champion Alundra Blayze left the company in 1995, and females in WWE were resigned to roles as managers. Chyna offered a different look to the company, and she even began wrestling men. The women’s title was brought back in 1998.
With her bodybuilder physique, Chyna held her own against the top superstars of WWE's "Attitude Era," a time when wrestling had never been more popular. In 1999, she became the only woman to hold the Intercontinental Championship, and she was a legitimate champion, eventually losing the belt in a feud with Chris Jericho. Chyna also became the first woman to ever wrestle in the Royal Rumble, a marquee WWE pay-per-view event.
“She completely, 100% transcended the business,” Triple H, now WWE’s executive vice president, told Stone Cold Steve Austin on a live podcast on the WWE Network last year. “Changed the business. Paradigm shifter of the business. Did what no woman ever did before, and was awesome at it, and a phenomenal talent.”
Chyna left WWE in 2001, making short appearances in other wrestling promotions. She had a stint with New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2002, and was a performer for TNA in 2011.
Chyna had her share of personal issues over the last 15 years. The native of Rochester, New York, battled drug problems and appeared on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” in 2008. She also starred in pornographic films, which Triple H indicated was keeping her out of the WWE Hall of Fame.