Class of 2018
It’s easy to judge someone based upon their mistakes in life. Easy to hold them up to the spotlight and pick out each misstep, each personal and/or professional foible.
It’s easy to paint someone, anyone, in a negative color when all you’re drawing from is, well, negativity.
The truth of the matter, though, is that we’re all different shades. Some negative, some positive. Some happy, some sad. The landscape of a life cannot be reduced to just one shade of color.
Joanie Laurer passed away in the midst of monumental personal battles, many brought on by her own poor decisions. That can’t be negated. Neither, though, can the incredible amount of things that she accomplished. The barriers she broke through. The doors she kicked open and splintered off the hinges, allowing others to peek through the destruction and eventually follow in her proud footsteps.
Joanie Laurer is unfortunately gone. Chyna, though, will live forever.
I’ve always found it unfortunate that so many who lived through the peak of her career seem almost dismissive of what Chyna was able to accomplish. I’ve read books, seen shoot interviews and listened to shoot interviews where her role in the Attitude Era is almost casually disregarded as the happenstance of her being romantically involved with someone who had stroke with the boss. Perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in that. Maybe she was able to get her foot in the door due to her personal relationship with Triple H. That, though, had nothing to do with how incredibly popular she became. HHH may have had the boss’s ear, but he certainly couldn’t dictate how the fans reacted, who would or wouldn’t get over.
If you didn’t have the good fortune of living through and witnessing that era firsthand, I suppose it would be easy to toss Chyna’s role aside as that of a novelty player, as an aberration in the midst of the most popular era in the history of the business. To do so, though, is flatly wrong. Chyna wasn’t just some novelty act that also happened to be popular when Steve Austin and The Rock were tearing it up every week. That would be Scotty 2 Hotty or Al Snow or Gillberg or something. Though not on the level of Austin or Rock (because frankly, who is?), Chyna was right behind them in terms of popularity and, for lack of a better term, overness.
Magazine covers. Merchandise. Halloween costumes. Appearances on mainstream television programs and awards shows. A lot of people got some of those things, but the list of those who got them all in that era is actually very short. Chyna’s name is on that list, alongside the previously mentioned Austin and Rock. Even names like Mick Foley, Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Undertaker didn’t accomplish all that she did on a mainstream level. Chyna wasn’t just a big star in pro wrestling, she was a big star in the entertainment field, as a whole.
Aside from the fame, though, Chyna was a genuine breaker of barriers. She was the first woman to ever compete in a Royal Rumble match. Twice. She was the first woman to ever be named #1 contender to the then WWF Championship (short lived though that status may have been). The first woman to compete exclusively against men. The first woman to compete in the King of the Ring tournament. The first (and thus far only) woman to ever win the Intercontinental Championship. She did that three times, though WWE has wiped her second reign (as co-Champion with Chris Jericho) off the record books.
She appeared twice on the cover of Playboy magazine, setting a sales record with her first appearance. Further proving her star power among her male peers, she was also one of the few Superstars who released an autobiography during that era, alongside names like Steve Austin, Mick Foley, The Rock and Kurt Angle. The book, If They Only Knew, was a New York Times Bestseller. She had a recurring role on the NBC sitcom, Third Rock From The Sun, an achievement of the sort that no other superstar of her era achieved outside of some guy named Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Chyna wasn’t just a novelty act. She wasn’t just an aberration. Hell, Chyna wasn’t just a star.
Chyna was a Superstar, in every sense of the world. Everything she did, from being the silent muscle of DX to confidently defending her Intercontinental Championship against Chris Jericho to displaying her infectious personality and smile as Mamacita to her Latino Heat, Eddie Guerrero, Chyna was great. Not just good. Great.
Now, almost 17 years after her final appearance in a WWE ring, her impact upon the industry is being truly felt. Chyna, though she freely expressed her femininity and sexuality by appearing in the previously mentioned issues of Playboy, never relied upon those traits to get over with the audience. Sure, female stars like Sunny, Sable, Trish and Lita were incredibly popular in their own rights, but in each of those cases that popularity was built, to varying degrees, upon the fact that guys wanted to see them naked. Of course guys wanted to see Chyna naked, too. Thus breaking sales records for the magazine in which she finally appeared as such. But more than that, guys wanted to see Chyna kick ass. To that same end, they believed that Chyna could kick ass.
In other words, Chyna was appreciated for what she was able to do in the ring as opposed to what was under her clothes. That made her a rarity in her era, as well as the eras that followed. It’s not until just recently, within the last few years, that women finally became accepted and appreciated for their skills over their looks. It took almost two decades to get there, but the foundation that Chyna laid is finally being built upon by a generation of women who saw her and her legacy for what they truly are.
And what is Chyna? Chyna is a trailblazer. A hero. A superstar. Chyna is a groundbreaking, glass ceiling shattering, ass kicking, ticket selling, one of a kind completely unique entity within the world of professional wrestling. A legend.
And now, Chyna is an LOP Hall of Famer. Hopefully not the last Hall of Fame she finds her rightful way into.
It’s easy to judge someone based upon their mistakes in life. Joanie Laurer made plenty and ultimately paid the price for them. But she also built a legacy upon which the women of both today and tomorrow will stand. That legacy, that gift to the world of pro wrestling, will ultimately define her.
Thank you, Chyna. I’m sorry it took us all so long to catch up with you.
Rest well, Joanie. You are missed.