To WWE fans, "The Ninth Wonder of the World" Chyna was a key component to WWE's legendary "Attitude Era" during the late 1990's and early 2000's. While WWE had seen many female characters at that point, none of them were anything close to Chyna. Standing at nearly six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds of muscle, Chyna was unlike any female performers that came before her. She was popular with both the male and female demographic. Men were attracted to her, and females idolized her.
In a profession that was - and to a certain extent still is - male-dominated, Chyna was a pioneer who broke down boundaries. 1999 was an incredible year for Chyna. In January, she became the first woman in history to enter the annual Royal Rumble Match. Then in August of that year, at the No Mercy pay-per-view, she defeated Jeff Jarrett to become the first-ever female WWE Intercontinental Champion, a feat which has never been duplicated since. Throughout 1999 and 2000, Chyna would go on to become a three-time WWE Intercontinental Champion, and also appeared in the November 2000 edition of Playboy Magazine.
She would end her stellar WWE career in 2001, but not before capturing the WWE Women's Championship as well. She held the Women's Championship from April of 2001 until she left WWE in November of that year, without ever being defeated for the Women's Championship.
Wrestling fans will always remember Chyna for a variety of reasons. Whether it was for being a member of the legendary D-Generation X, her incredible physique and amazing feats of strength, or for being a legitimate threat to WWE's top Superstars, male and female alike. Without question, Chyna made a Hall of Fame-worthy career for herself, and will certainly never be forgotten by the millions of fans that she performed in front of on a weekly basis during the height of WWE's popularity.
But there was a lot more to Joanie Laurer than just the success she obtained throughout her professional wrestling career. Those who knew her on a personal level knew that she was a truly remarkable human being, especially considering what kind of obstacles she had to overcome throughout her life. Although she was known for being a friendly and outgoing person, she dealt with more than her share of personal demons. It was no secret that she battled against depression and substance abuse, and although she tried valiantly to get through these hardships, unfortunately, these issues would ultimately get the best of her.
On April 20, 2016, Joanie "Chyna" Laurer passed away at the young age of 46.
For this article, we got the opportunity to speak with one of Chyna's dearest friends, Rob Potylo. Mr. Potylo is a comedian, musician, and film producer, who was working with Chyna to produce her documentary, The Reconstruction of Chyna, at the time of her passing. He was one of her closest friends and actually lived with both Chyna and her manager Anthony Anzaldo at one point.
Rob has spoken with several media outlets regarding Chyna's passing and some of the details about the final days of her life, but now he would like the chance to go into more detail about what was actually going on with Chyna at the time of her passing and for the last few months of her life.
How did the documentary The Reconstruction of Chyna come about?
I've been a massive fan of wrestling since 1987/1988. I worshiped at the alter of the Golden Era of wrestling in the late 1980's, and then the Attitude Era in the late 1990's. I've been a comedian/musician/video producer up in the Greater Boston area. I had been working with director Erik Angra on a wide variety of mockumentary/documentary projects. During late 2014, we flew WWE Hall of Famer "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart up to Massachusetts to film a mockumentary pilot, "Loud Satisfaction", with my metal-headed Massachusetts alter-ego, Robby Roadsteamer.
We had so much fun, we decided to look for other wrestlers for our comedy videos. I located Chyna on Twitter, started watching all her video blogs from Japan, and loved her humor and dorkiness. I didn't know whether or not she was still in Japan, so I got in touch with her manager, Anthony Anzaldo, through Twitter. It turned out that Chyna needed a documentary more than anything. So I told Erik Angra about her story and history, knowing that his background working with Ken Burns and Vice would give her a wonderful chance to tell her story through a high-end documentary, instead of a cheesy, reality-show-movie. I introduced Erik to Anthony, suggested a road trip cross country, and it worked! Erik bought her a plane ticket back to America, we picked her up in NY at JFK, and we were off.
How did you first meet Chyna, and what was your initial impression of her?
I was actually the first person she saw when she got through the gates at JFK Airport. My initial impression of her was very much like the videos I saw of her from Japan on YouTube; that she is a total dork, sweetheart, with an F'ing fantastic sense of humor in the vein of Adult Swim. She's quirky, and just so humble and kind. I always described her to friends as the alternative chick in college I would have been best pals with.
How would you describe Chyna's personality?
Zen, centered, peaceful. Never stressed. Always a huge smile on her face. I loved just looking across the van and seeing her everywhere we went. Always laughing and fun-loving.
Tell us about your time living with both Chyna and her manager Anthony Anzaldo. What was their relationship like, and how would you describe the relationship between the three of you?
I lived with her and Anthony on the road, going back to his beach house in Redondo, and then on the floor of the living room of that house for two months (Chyna got the couch), while I helped film, produce, and upload video for the documentary. 90% of the time, Anthony was generally very pleasant. We all had similar senses of humor, and had a bunch of fun times.
I understand he had a plan to get Chyna back on track, but he also seemed to want to put her in a shit-load of Comic-Cons, get her back into porn, and generally get her plugged back into a crazy schedule without seeing that she needed rehab and counseling pretty much right off the bat. Anthony also had a brutal, brutal temper. When he didn't like the way things were going, or didn't feel he was receiving "consideration", he would go off like you wouldn't believe. I was at the receiving end of this once or twice, and heard Chyna on the receiving end of this too. I also heard this temper many other times with family, or on the phone.
In August of 2015, Anthony and Chyna went to Vegas for some weekend event. She had failed to meet her wake-up call at 8:00 AM on Sunday morning, and Anthony decided that he'd "had enough". He left her in Vegas for five days by herself. I was woken up that Sunday night to unearthly screaming; Anthony was on the phone with Chyna, shouting, "I don't care what F'ing happens to you! You are shit!" I was so scared, both for her and myself. I really was prepared to die at that point. The police got called by the neighbors, he was so loud.
Chyna finally got on a Greyhound to LAX, and Erik had to hook her up with an Uber to get back to Redondo. When she came through the door, she was F'd up as all hell with her pants hanging off her hips.
Back in the summer of 2015, WWE Hall of Famer Roderick Toombs, better known to the world as "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, sadly passed away in his sleep at the age of 61. After his funeral, there were rumors circulating on the internet about Chyna's behavior at Roddy's funeral. More specifically, there were rumors that she allegedly "rushed over" to WWE Chief Operating Officer Paul "Triple H" Levesque, who Chyna had dated for several years back in the 1990's, and created somewhat of a scene during the funeral. What can you tell us about the circumstances surrounding Roddy's funeral? How did Chyna feel about Roddy's passing, and was it her intention to somehow "confront" Paul Levesque at the funeral or create any kind of a scene?
Chyna's lawyer Sam Perlmutter also represented Roddy. I remember having lunch with Sam, Chyna, and Anthony in Beverly Hills. Sam was talking to Chyna about possibly joining a wrestling company in Vegas with Piper. Piper wanted Chyna on his podcast, and had been talking to Anthony about getting that set up.
When Roddy died Chyna was very sad, not just for him, but for his family, who she knew and cared about very much. She was invited along with Anthony by the lawyer to attend his funeral up in Portland, Oregon. At the end of the service, Anthony told Chyna to go up to Hunter and say she was sorry for everything. She did. She even gave Hunter a hug. According to Chyna, Hunter said, "Me too", and they parted ways.
Somehow, Hunter's old best pal Sean "X-Pac" Waltman got wind of this afterwards (I wonder who could have told him). And even though he wasn't there, he blasted Chyna on Twitter for "bum-rushing" Hunter at the funeral, and almost being "taken down by security". I was sick to my stomach, and Chyna was also very distraught. We created a video of her defending her actions. She explained that she had been invited by the lawyer, and that she genuinely did have a tender moment with Hunter at the funeral, which turned out to be their last moment together. I'm very happy that there's footage of it, to show how blown out of proportion the whole thing got. It was filmed by her manager Anthony Anzaldo, in showing this footage there is no disrespect meant toward Piper's family but Chyna's name was dragged through the mud and this proves what was first reported never actually happend.
Chyna's response to accusations:
WNS UPDATE: The actual footage of Chyna hugging Paul "Triple H" Levesque at the funeral of Rowdy Roddy Piper has surfaced on Potylo's official YouTube account, filmed by her manager Anthony Anzaldo.
It clearly shows Chyna giving Triple H a hug which he reciprocated, there was no bum-rushing or security involved as Sean "X-Pac" Waltman claimed on Twitter after the funeral.
It has come out recently that Chyna was severely struggling during the final days of her life. What can you tell us about how she was acting or what she was going through in her final days? Did you notice any changes in her personality? Did she confide in you or anyone else? Did she ask anybody for any sort of help or treatment for her issues, or did she try to keep everything to herself?
Chyna was on a bunch of pills: Valium, Ambien, even Rohypnol. She never thought she had a problem, and would do everything to mask it. Chyna was pretty good for the first couple of weeks of the road trip, but when we got to Vegas, she had her first big night of going out drinking with members of the documentary crew and management. I don't drink or do pills, so I tended to stay back at the hotel during these shindigs, but I would see the after-effects the next day as Chyna would be slurring, erratic, and at times, uncontrollable. She would be good for a few weeks, and then binge again. Instead of rehab, she would be put into these situations again and again, where she'd be enabled because other people wanted to party, or hang with their lady-pals they just met, and then she would get thrown under the bus the next day if she couldn't handle the situations.
After a couple of months or living with Chyna and Anthony, I moved to an apartment in East Hollywood. Chyna got an apartment right up the street from Anthony in Redondo. Over the next few months, Anthony booked her for Comic-Con after Comic-Con. The WWE, through certain channels, had let Anthony know they would offer Chyna rehab. As her manager, Anthony could have jumped on it, but he would say "not yet" and that she "was getting better." It seemed like rehab would disrupt the Comic-Con schedule, and he didn't want that.
During the last month of April, the wheels were coming off. Chyna was slurring more and more, and had tried to break off from her manager because of his temper. She had told me he had kept the money from her last Comic-Con in North Carolina. It was a crazy time. She sent me a horrific photo one day of her face covered in bruises. I called her up and asked what happened. She said she got smashed with a champagne bottle while smelling some flowers near her apartment by an angry fan. I thought she fell while on some binge. I sent the photo to Erik, who got it to Anthony. By then, Anthony was not speaking with Chyna, but he spent those weeks trying to negotiate with the TV show Intervention instead of just having an F'ing intervention.
What is the status of the Reconstruction of Chyna documentary?
The documentary is slated for release in Spring of 2017. To this date, I have not yet received a contract for my involvement as executive producer, even though I set up the project with the director and Chyna's manager, suggested the road trip, produced, gripped, filmed, offered so much input, and acted as liaison. The director and manager were more concerned about their percentage with each other than they ever were of me. Near the end of Chyna's life, I was eventually starting to get pushed out of shoots and trips to Palm Springs to visit the lawyer. I think it was because I witnessed too many of their enabling behaviors, and it was just better to not have me around.
8. You've already spoken to several other media outlets about the situation, but is there anything else you would like to address? Perhaps some rumors or misconceptions that you would like to put to rest? Maybe some important details that have been overlooked?
Basically I would like to echo what Chyna's mother recently stated. Near the end of her life, Chyna was trying to break off from her manager, and was tired of his temper and enabling behaviors. It makes me sick to my stomach to watch him take over her estate after her death, and set up that awful memorial up in his town of Redondo Beach with his B-list clients (Coolio, Barry Williams) performing along with Anthony himself on guitar (which would have Chyna rolling in her grave). I tried to tell my story to TMZ and CBS LA, but all they wanted to show were the photos and videos I gave them, and not touch upon the manager's role in the bigger picture of things.
On a happier note, Mick Foley and his family are the greatest. Mick invited Chyna and I to his house last year to watch the WWE Money in the Bank pay-per-view, and the kindness that he and his family showed Chyna and me will be forever etched in my soul. Plus, he gave me a ton of amazing Santa's Village shirts! Noelle gave me a few shirts, including a lovely Nickelback one. And Colette gave me a sweet jacket.
Lastly, how do you think Chyna should be remembered, both by the wrestling fans and by those who knew her personally?
Chyna was a Superstar, a goddess, and a down-to-Earth sweetheart. She had the sense of humor of an alternative college chick you would hang out with every day after shitty classes. Even though she was a gladiator, she was also spiritual, magical, and centered like a Zen Queen. I miss the living shit out of her. I miss the comedy videos we made, our hilarious conversations on the phone about wrestling (such as our versions of the Triple H, X-Pac, and D-X theme songs), the crazy times on the road, the way she would say goodnight to me from the couch while I slept on the floor at Anthony's apartment, all her random amazing gifts of leggings (I'm now obsessed), the smoothies she would make me, Netflix series we would watch (especially BoJack Horseman), and the memories she would ingrain into my soul.
I would ask fans to remember the bigger picture of her; the lady who was an odd duck weirdo as a teenager with a broken upbringing. She wanted to be a star, and she willed it. She did, in the words of Triple H, cause paradigm shifts in the wrestling industry for women. She broke the mold.
She was thrust into a real-life storyline in wrestling that was out of a Shakespearean play, with her lover taking the heart of the boss's daughter in real life, leaving her scorned and humiliated. She did not deserve to have her tribute buried in the second hour of Raw with a half-ass highlight reel. She doesn't need to be feared or buried by the WWE anymore. They should have a special induction ceremony at the end of the year to just show that she was a unique phoenix in an arena of champions.
I think about her every day, and I cry to myself as hard as I ever did when my Mom died. They were both my best friends, who left too soon. I'm losing it now again. She really did touch my soul.
Here is a playlist of some of the fun videos that Rob and Chyna recorded together:
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