"Contrary to the pile-driving, spinal-tapping, Amazonian figure I play on TV, I'm really a very sensitive, fragile little music box playing the theme song from Titanic," Chyna wrote in her 2001 memoir, If They Only Knew.
That tune came to an abrupt halt on April 20, about half a chorus shy of Céline Dion's triumphant closing key change. Mere hours before the world learned of music legend Prince's death, news broke that Chyna—born Joan Marie Laurer in Rochester, N.Y., on December 27, 1969—had been found dead in her Redondo Beach, Calif. home, reportedly the result of an accidental overdose on prescription medications. She was 46.
Manager and longtime friend Anthony Anzaldo told People that Laurer had been filming a documentary at the time of her death. The Reconstruction of Chyna, he said, would have followed the athlete as she made her triumphant return to World Wrestling Entertainment, giving her the "Rocky ending" that had eluded her in the 15 years since she parted ways with WWE.
From 1997 to 2001, fans of WWE—then still known as the World Wrestling Federation—marveled as Chyna shattered stereotypes by kicking ass. Unlike her female predecessors, Chyna was permitted to wrestle against the organization's big-name male competitors. She even took home non-gendered "neutral" titles, like the Intercontinental Championship. She challenged WWE viewers to view her skills first and her sex second, without making assumptions about the former based on the latter. Those efforts weren't always successful, but to say that her portrayal opened doors for women in sports entertainment—and arguably the culture at large—would be an understatement.
I'd like to say that Chyna's status as a pioneering figure in the world of professional wrestling will never be forgotten. I'd like to say that the paradigm-shifting impact she had on our understanding of bodies, gender, expectation, and ability is undeniable. But I can't. Female public figures are routinely treated as disposable in our society, particularly those who transgress the traditionally accepted limits of their prescribed gender role. Who's to say whether Laurer's célébrité will meet the same fate?
It's difficult to accept that Chyna will never be able to reclaim her groundbreaking legacy in the ring, the meaning of which poet and essayist Maireed Small Staid recently dissected for Jezebel. But there is one way to cement that legacy for posterity: an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Unlike some of her male contemporaries (Mick Foley, Eddie Guerrero) and even some of the female wrestlers she paved the way for (Lita, Trish Stratus), Chyna has yet to be granted access to those hallowed, metaphorical halls. There don't appear to be strict qualifications for induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, although the vast majority of inductees have either long since left WWE for other wrestling leagues or retired from sports entertainment altogether. Posthumous inductions are not uncommon, although they do not normally occur the year following a wrestler's death. Still, there is a precedent for next-year posthumous inductions, dating all the way back to inaugural Hall of Fame inductee André the Giant in 1993.
In a 2015 interview on "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's podcast, one of Laurer's ex-boyfriends—professional wrestler Triple H—speculated that the omission was due to Chyna's post-WWE career in the adult film industry.
"From a career standpoint, should she be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely," Triple H conceded. "[But] I've got an 8-year-old kid, and [if] my 8-year-old kid sees Hall of Fame, and [if] my 8-year-old kid goes on the Internet to look at Chyna, what comes up?"
WWE Corporate did not confirm or deny the allegation that Chyna's pornographic film career prevented her from being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. But in an emailed statement to Fusion, they did leave the door open for inclusion at the 2017 ceremony in April: "Next year's Hall of Fame selections have not been made yet, but [Chyna] will logically be considered."
Stephanie McMahon—WWE's Chief Brand Officer, daughter of CEO Vince McMahon, and a WWE wrestler in her own right—offered a slightly more affirmative answer when talking to paparazzi Thursday night.
"I'm sure that we will see Chyna in the Hall of Fame at some point in the future," McMahon told TMZ Sports. "I'm not sure exactly what year that will be, but there's no denying her contributions to WWE."
It's no secret that wrestling is fake; Chyna freely admits as much in her 2001 New York Times best-selling memoir, cowritten with screenwriter Michael Angeli as part of a five-book deal between WWE and Harper Collins imprint ReganBooks.
But the messages that WWE broadcasts to its millions of viewers about sex and gender are 100% real. Professional wrestling has long acted as a carnival of masculinity and femininity, writes University of Louisville professor Dr. Dawn Heinecken in a 2004 essay, "No Cage Can Hold Her Rage? Gender, Transgression, and the World Wrestling Federation's Chyna." It's a realm where compulsory gender norms are subverted and legitimized at will. As a living, breathing embodiment of the feminist ideals projected by contemporaneous fictional characters like Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Chyna "destabilized the social fabric" and "gave voice to oppositional perspectives on gender relations and women's power" with every handspring back elbow and ball-busting punch to the groin.
Chyna's accomplishments in the ring, like being the first and only woman to ever win WWE's Intercontinental Championship title, were not lost on the female wrestlers who followed in her footsteps. Two-time WWE Divas Champion Paige recently told Broadly that Laurer "made a huge impact in not just women's wrestling, but wrestling in general." Nor were those accomplishments lost on young female viewers at home.
"I don't think I had ever seen a woman with muscles like that," Elisa Rodríguez-Vila, Fusion's very own Social Art Director, told me. "I was really athletic growing up and not traditionally 'girly,' so her strength was refreshing to me. I just remember thinking that she could kick anyone's ass: man or woman."
Rodríguez-Vila explained that she often found herself in situations where she was "the only girl in the room" (playing video games, going to soccer camp), and so she related to Chyna on that level. "I knew what it felt like…to compete with boys and sometimes be made fun of, but also how good it felt when you showed them you were just as good as them."
"I wish I could tell her that she made a young girl feel cool and included," she added.
Joanie Laurer was many things. She was a University of Tampa graduate who balanced schoolwork with R.A. duties and ROTC service. She briefly joined the Peace Corps after college, returning home from Guatemala after two months. ("I didn't have the balls," she wrote in her memoir. "The Peace Corps…doesn't build character…it requires it. And at the time, I was a lightweight.") She was a multiple AVN award winner for her adult film work with Vivid Entertainment. She was a VH1 reality show veteran who bravely confronted her substance abuse issues on national television. She spent the past couple of years overseas teaching English in Japan, as highlighted in a 2015 VICE Sports interview. She played the cello. She was multilingual. She did yoga. She was a vegan.
She was also Chyna, "The Ninth Wonder of the World." Recognition by the WWE Hall of Fame might be arbitrary, but if it will enshrine her impact for generations of wrestling fans to come—if it will ensure that her legacy will go on—then it's the least that she deserves.
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.