WWE: Wrestling with Mortality by Marc Madison

In the early morning of Thursday April 21st reports began to circulate that former WWE Intercontinental and Women’s champion Joanie “Chyna” Laurer had died at the age of 45. A number of wrestling dignitaries and fans shared their condolences for her, and hoped that she had found peace. While condolences are often important, it is the latter that is the focal point. When people mention ‘finding peace,’ they are without question suggesting that that person had problems. A friend of mine recently tweeted out that, essentially, while it is all well and good to show respect for the dead it’s how you treat someone while they are living that what will be remembered. I couldn’t agree more. While adults can often see the difference between the on-screen character and the real person wrestlers portray, one has to question that as it applied to Ms. Laurer. For all the wrestling fans that are speaking highly of her now, could we honestly say that we would display the same sentiment if she were here with us today?

Her choices in life suggest a real struggle, things I couldn’t even imagine having to deal with, but she did on a daily basis. While reports of personal issues, professional choices to appear in adult films, and public criticism of the WWE became what she was most known for in recent times, it isn’t a reflection of the person that those close to her say that she was. When we peel back the layers, we were dealing with a person who was heartbroken. She was lied to, and the truth about her dismissal is often slipped under the rug. The struggle is real, but the quality of the person is equally real. After Laurer’s death, Mick Foley stated how he had seen her and remembered the woman that wasn’t just good to him, but good to his children, especially his daughter Noelle. He also recounted how his wife remembered Laurer and what she meant to her because of how she treated their children. Laurer isn’t the first person, let alone wrestler, whose life is held in high regard, but how she was treated while she was living didn’t reflect that regard.

A number of former wrestlers’ lives have seen their share of low lights, and rather than smiting them because of those choices, we would have been better to embrace them with hope for a better outlook for the future. We have all seen success stories from the likes of Goldust, as he improved his quality of life and was able to revive his career. It’s about creating a plan that protects performers and sets them up for success, rather than having to deal with failure, wondering what could have been. Older wrestling fans may remember former WWE talent Sam Houston. Houston is the brother of Jake Roberts, and much like Jake, Sam has also had to deal with substance abuse addiction. He appears now to be seeking help and that’s the first step for anyone trying to get their life, let alone their career, back on track. The same could be said for the likes of Jake Roberts and Scott Hall, who have embraced support from a friend, namely Diamond Dallas Page, to help get their lives in order and provide them with a greater outlook for the future.

The intention of this column isn’t to sound preachy, and if it does than I apologize. It’s more important for us to understand the challenges wrestlers face that the abuse they subject their body to often leaves them in a position where alleviating pain is the first step to being well. The problem is that alleviating pain can and has led to forms of addiction that can have adverse effects long-term, rather than seeking alternatives that allow them to focus their mind and energy on being well. It isn’t even a matter of wrestlers not seeking help, but rather not knowing where exactly to seek help for their addictions.

On the Monday April 25th edition of Raw, the WWE paid their respects with a tribute to the former Intercontinental and Women’s champion. They not only aired an inmemoriam for her, but also aired a video tribute. It was interesting as the video didn’t discuss her as a person, but simply focused on her as a performer, and showed several tweets by current and former WWE performers and staff. There is nothing wrong with airing only video footage of her, but isn’t the person behind the character something that should be noted? The sentiments that Mick Foley shared publicly about what she meant to him as a person, he can’t be the only one with those feelings. We understand that her lifestyle choices aren’t something that the company would celebrate, but does that mean we don’t acknowledge how she treated others, she worked with behind the scenes?

Compare this to the commemoration of the late “Blackjack” Mulligan (Robert Windham); his impact and the person he was where both celebrated. His legacy is unmistakable as a father, grandfather and a wrestler. Wrestlers today would be hard pressed to find a tougher character during his time in the ring. He too has seen his children endure challenges both personally and professionally, and came out the other side respected more for it. This isn’t intended to a comparison between Chyna and Blackjack Mulligan, but it shouldn’t fall on deaf ears that everyone has struggles in life and it’s up to us to celebrate their lives because ultimately all our lives will come to an end.

Laurer’s life endured a great deal of criticism, and now she is being celebrated for her contributions to wrestling. Where was this support for her a week ago? While some wrestling fans have probably always shown their support for her, can that be said for others? What can always be said about Laurer is that she tried to maintain the Chyna brand long after her career in the WWE came to an end.

Laurer didn’t simply compete in WWE; she also competed for New Japan Pro Wrestling and in TNA. Wrestling fans that didn’t follow her career after she left WWE may not remember that. She carved a niche for herself because of whom she was and what she could do. She made herself a brand. It really says something about her awareness and business sense that she was able to capitalize on whom she was, and looked beyond wrestling. She took that awareness and became an entrepreneur of sorts. While some may scoff at that notion because she appeared in adult films that was a professional choice she made that shouldn’t be a reflection on her personally. Fans have also passed judgement on the likes of Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Scott Hall. How many times did they fall down before they got back up? It took time, support and resilience on their part to realize that they weren’t alone. In a number of these cases, those dealing with having their life turned upside down both personally and professionally probably felt like they were alone. The idea that any publicity was good publicity may have been a belief.

In the end, the story of Laurer is a very sad case. Wrestling fans today that aren’t familiar with what she achieved will only see the images from her post WWE career. That shouldn’t be her legacy, but sadly it’s the only one they will have. Despite Triple H’s publically voiced concerns about what his daughters would see when they searched the internet for news about Chyna, maybe fans SHOULD navigate, through Google, by typing in ‘chynawwe wrestling and career’ to see that there was more to her than simply adult films and Public exposure of her relationship status. Chyna’s career meant a great deal to a number of women both in and out of the ring.

As we each have to deal with our wrestling heroes, their careers and even lives coming to an end, we are reminded that their struggles are real. They are not only seeking to maintain a career, to remain relevant and maintain notoriety, but they are doing this under the scrutiny of wrestling fans. I can’t assume to know what they go through. I’ve never suffered from issues of substance abuse, but I’m sure that their addiction is more because of the pain they intend to trying to alleviate. We can’t presume that she didn’t seek support. We can’t also presume to know what she was going through. All we know is what we are given, reports of choices that will leave more questions than answers.

For all we know Laurer was simply seeking refuge from criticism, and fell victim to more criticism in the process. That has to be the struggle she had with life. Over fifteen years ago, the person she cared most about wasn’t honest with her and it ultimately cost her, her job. This, despite the fact she was the focal point of mid-card feuds and was an inspiration to a number of young women everywhere. At a time where the WWE was in the midst of the Monday Night Wars with WCW,Chyna was an original. In fact, she was such a standout that her character spawned a replica in WCW at the same time. Does anyone remember Asya?

It’s safe to say that Chyna deserved better. She deserved better in her personal life. She deserved better in her professional life, and she deserved better for her legacy in wrestling. She sadly didn’t get that. We can only hope that her memory will be commemorated some day with an induction in a Hall of Fame.

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