Joanie Laurer, best known to legions of professional wrestling fans as former WWE diva Chyna, was found dead today in her Los Angeles home. No cause of death has been released for Laurer, who was 45. “It is with deep sadness to inform you today that we lost a true icon, a real life superhero. Joanie Laurer aka Chyna, the 9th wonder of the world has passed away,” read a message posted to her Facebook page Wednesday evening. “She will live forever in the memories of her millions of fans and all of us that loved her.”
Born in Rochester, New York, Laurer became famous in 1997 after joining the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE), adopting the name Chyna and billed as “The 9th Wonder Of The World” in tribute to WWE legend Andre the Giant. Wrestling against both women and men, her sexual identity, large stature and tomboy persona presented as the antithesis of the usual diva persona, and she enjoyed spectacular success in pro wrestling for the next four years. She was forced out of WWF in 2001 following a personal conflict with WWE wrestler and executive Stephanie McMahon, returning only sporadically to wrestling after.Famously, she was forced to stop using the name Chyna for a period due to the trademark being owned by WWF – she later filed paperwork to change her name legally.
Following her wrestling career, she appeared in a small number of pornographic films (she had also modeled for Playboy in 2000, and did so again in 2002), and pursued acting, appearing on episodes of 3rd Rock From The Sun, among other roles. She also found success on reality tv, appearing on Fear Factor, and in various incarnations of The Surreal Life.