Heading into the viewing of the documentary made available this past weekend through REELZ, I was prepared for it to be a salacious presentation. This is because both REELZ and Joanie Laurer herself, during the highs and lows of her public life, exist in the very realm of salaciousness. Chyna’s relatively brief shining time in the WWF (sometimes it’s surprising to be reminded, as I was during this documentary, that her run lasted only four years) landed, of course, during The Attitude Era, and her exploits after wrestling included appearances in reality TV and pornographic films.

REELZ, meanwhile, had already come under fire from Laurer’s mother, Jan LaQue, in 2019 when they presented an episode of their series Autopsy: The Last Hours of… featuring Chyna, a series which speculates as to the final hours before a number of celebrity deaths. LaQue threatened legal action over what she deemed disrespectful exploitation of her daughter’s troubles, though nothing at this point seems to have come from that threat.

Rather than any kind of trashy spectacle, however, the 45-minutes in length Chyna: Wrestling with Demons offers a fair, balanced, and ultimately sympathetic view of Laurer’s life as a whole, with the only caveat being that they didn’t have any truly close contacts appearing on camera. What we’re given is plenty of speculation from afar from Diamond Dallas Page, Dr. Drew Pinsky (of the TV show Celebrity Rehab), Dave Meltzer, Claire Elizabeth (editor, Cageside Seats), Jade Cargill, and Tammy “Sunny” Sytch, all offering at times praise for her unique presence and recognition of her troubled life.

Featuring what will always feel like Dark Side of the Ring inspired hazy footage of people portraying the likes of Laurer and Sean Waltman for transitional shots in between interview or archival footage, the show doesn’t lack for any clips from both her WWF years, her reality TV escapades such as appearing on Fear Factor, her acting on shows like Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, and yes, even her sex tape releases alongside Waltman. As far as the latter goes, nothing X-rated is used, mind you.

Laurer makes an appearance on 3rd Rock from the Sun, alongside (L-R) Wayne Knight, Kristen Johnston, and French Stewart. Photo: IMDB

Both DDP and Cargill, and to a lesser extent Sytch, comment on the void that is felt when a wrestler isn’t performing in front of a crowd, speculating that some who lose access to that are constantly seeking other ways to fill the void, sometimes in healthy ways and sometimes not. Cargill specifically says that she can only think of describing the experience as “like a drug.”

Near the beginning of the episode, Sytch talks about her final conversation with Laurer where Sytch tried to convince her to join her for a stint in rehab, one that Sytch feels may have saved Laurer’s life had she agreed. “You can’t force someone to stop,” Sytch says.

Chyna in October 2000. SlamWrestling file photo

The show charts Laurer’s life in broad strokes, mining her 2001 biography If They Only Knew for the troubled details of Laurer’s youth, abusive family life and determination to reinvent herself as a bodybuilder, through her entry into the WWF as bodyguard to Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Sytch remembers her as being a lot of fun backstage, someone who all the women liked, but as it tracks her success through entering the Royal Rumble match to winning the Intercontinental Championship, DDP acknowledges that “A lot of people want that dream, but they have no idea what pressure comes with that dream — the road beats you down.”

Following her departure from the WWF, the unmistakable feeling at the halfway point of the episode is that it’s all downhill from there. Laurer bounces around from efforts at acting, wrestling, and also seeking help for her issues with Dr. Pinsky on Celebrity Rehab, although he expresses his doubts about how honest and committed to the process she was.

After entering a relationship with Waltman that’s categorized by Meltzer as undeniably caring, but likely hurtful to both of them through no intent on either side, Laurer ends up largely removing herself from the public eye and the trappings of celebrity culture for a relatively quiet life in Japan, seemingly more at peace in the time just before her passing in 2016.

There isn’t much new offered in terms of details, either personal or professional, in Chyna: Wrestling with Demons, but for curious viewers who don’t know the whole story, or for fans who simply seek a look back that both celebrates the successes and catalogues the hardships, it’s provided in this taught, well-produced show.

Visit the REELZ website for info on how to access its programming — including as the new home of Major League Wrestling’s MLW Underground flagship show.