Joanie Laurer, the former WWE star known as Chyna, died Wednesday night at the age of 46.
The news was confirmed by Laurer’s manager and a statement posted on her official Twitter account, which read: “[T]oday we lost a true icon, a real life superhero. She will live forever in the memories of her millions of fans and all of us that loved her.”
Laurer’s body was found at a home in Redondo Beach, California. A cause of death is not known, though police are reportedly treating the case as a possible overdose.
Famous to a generation of wrestling fans for her run during WWE’s “Attitude Era,” Laurer redefined the possibilities for female performers as Chyna, a strong, silent enforcer billed as “The Ninth Wonder of the World.” Thanks to her imposing physical presence, she quickly rose through wrestling’s indie ranks, and by 1997 had achieved fame – first as a bodyguard for Triple H, then as a member of the iconic D-Generation X stable. It was with DX that Chyna showed she could hang with the boys in more ways than one, a trend that would define her time in WWE. She was the first female to ever enter the Royal Rumble match and qualify for the King of the Ring tournament, and in 1999, was the first woman to win the Intercontinental Championship.
As one of the era’s most popular stars, Chyna also posed for Playboy and made frequent appearances on sitcoms and reality TV. Early Thursday morning, WWE released a statement remembering her as “a physically striking and wildly talented performer” and “a true sports entertainment pioneer.”
But after an acrimonious departure from the company in 2001, Laurer’s life took a turn. She wrestled only sporadically, waged a well-publicized battle with drugs and alcohol and appeared in several pornographic films. Last year, Triple H – her former boyfriend – implied that Laurer’s “lifestyle choices” were the reason she had not been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.