Chyna Biography

She burst onto the pro-wrestling scene and gained fame, before dying young.

A fan kisses the hand of professional wrestler Chyna, September 28, 2000.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Dubbed the "Ninth Wonder of the World," Chyna -- whose real name was Joan Marie Laurer -- changed the role of women in the world of professional wrestling. Her career highlights included being a founding member of the groundbreaking wrestling group D-Generation X, being the only female to win the intercontinental championship, becoming a reality TV star and writing a bestselling autobiography before dying young.

Early Life and Career

Born on Dec. 2, 1970, in Rochester, New York, Laurer left home at 16 and went to Spain before attending and graduating from the University of Tampa in 1992 with a degree in Spanish literature. She joined the Peace Corps and taught English in Costa Rica. Before becoming a wrestler, Laurer was a competitor in fitness competitions. Laurer was trained to wrestle by the legendary Killer Kowalski at his school in Salem, Massachusetts.

Fighting Men and Posing for "Playboy"

In February 1997, Laurer made her WWE debut as the bodyguard for pro wrestler Shawn Michaels and his team Triple H. She went on to fight against -- and beat -- male wrestlers. In 1999, she became the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble Match. A few months later, she beat Jeff Jarrett to become the first and only woman to hold the intercontinental championship.

In 2000, Laurer appeared on the cover and in the pages of "Playboy" -- the issue became one of the top sellers in the magazine's history. A few months later, Laurer released her autobiography, "If They Only Knew," which eventually reached No. 2 on the "New York Times" best sellers list.  By the end of the year, her contract with the WWE expired and she was not resigned.

Post WWE Life

When she left the WWE, Laurer had to stop using the name, Chyna. With her wrestling career over, she ventured out to Hollywood where she went by the names China Doll and Joanie Laurer. Laurer posed for "Playboy" again and appeared on "Celebrity Boxing 2," where she lost to Joey Buttafuoco.

Laurer also had a relationship with former D-Generation X partner Sean Waltman. At one point the couple became engaged. However, there were many battles between the two that played out publicly on "The Howard Stern Show" and "The Surreal Life." Laurer became a fixture on the VH1 "Celebreality" shows. She also appeared on VH1's "Celebrity Rehab." In 2011, she wrestled once more for Total Nonstop Acton but soon left the company.

Death

On April 20, 2016, Laurer was found unresponsive in her apartment in Redondo Beach, California.  A law enforcement source told TMZ that she was discovered by a friend who checked on her after she had not been seen or heard from for several days. Those sources also said that there was no sign of either foul play or illegal drugs. She was only 45.