A “beautiful comeback story” gone so tragically awry.
In the first trailer for the emotional documentary covering Joanie “Chyna” Laurer’s final months, the groundbreaking WWE star gets candid about fame and the personal demons that led to her shocking 2016 death.
Laurer who died a year ago on Thursday from a mixture of alcohol and prescription drugs at age 45 allowed cameras into her life last year following a return from years living abroad, all lead by documentarian Erik Angra.
(Warning: parts of this trailer are NSFW)
“I’m Chyna, I’m a champion,” she declares, emotional, in the first clips from the project, titled Wrestling with Chyna. She later says in the trailer, “I went from a billion dollar commodity to on the street.”
Addressing the abuse of prescription drugs that ended her life, Chyna tells the cameras, “If I need one valium, I take one valium. If I need three...”
Chyna was an original member of D-Generation X, partnering with other wrestling stars like Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Following her time in the ring, she posed for Playboy and appeared on popular VH1 reality series The Surreal Life, which documented her struggle with alcohol abuse.
Angra who also directed the upcoming film Portrait of Harry tells PEOPLE exclusively that Chyna was “so warm, so loving,” and calls her a “feminist icon.”
He says that when they first started the project, he was unaware of the extent of Chyna’s substance abuse.
“It seemed like she was getting better, but then every once in a while there would be concerning moments,” he admits. “In the final months, we flew to Miami to visit her father’s grave, we were trying to deal with some of the underlying issues that she was having.”
These moments including a botched reconciliation with her estranged mother impacted Chyna heavily emotionally, Angra says.
“She started to drink, and holed up in her apartment and was pretending everything was fine. But the phone calls she was making to me were very worrisome,” he admits, adding that he sometimes wishes he intervened more. “Sometimes I feel really guilty.”
Before her death, Chyna had ingested painkillers oxycodone and oxymorphone, as well as Valium, nordiazepam (a muscle relaxant) and temazepam (a sleeping aide), according to the report from the Los Angeles County Coroner that PEOPLE obtained last year.
Her former manager, Anthony Anzaldo, told PEOPLE of the documentary at the time, “It’s her facing a lot of her own emotions and issue. So it was getting a little bit intense for her and she probably was just inadvertently taking her meds a little bit inappropriately. Once we found out that was happening, we knew that there was a problem, and four days later she was gone.”
Anzaldo’s attempted help is heard in Chyna’s final voicemail to Angra, which he is also sharing with PEOPLE. In it, she expresses her willingness to go to rehab.
“That voicemail, when I heard it, I was very excited,” Angra tells PEOPLE. “She, for the first time, admitted she had a problem... Sadly, that was the last time anybody heard from her.”
Angra says that Chyna’s unexpected death “changed who I was as a person.”
“Her entire life she was searching to feel loved and feminine and beautiful,” he says. “She was one of the strongest women physically and emotionally in the sports world for the last 20, 30 years.”
He hopes that viewers “remember [Chyna] for her strength and for what she represented for a lot of women that didn’t have the voice.”
“And I hope that people can see the signs of people who are going through addiction,” he says. “They look strong, and they look tough, but celebrities and artists are some of the most sensitive people in the world.”
Angra and the film’s executive producer Rob Potylo hope to release Wrestling with Chyna sometime this fall.