It has been about a year and a half since VICE TV presented an episode of their “Vice Versa” docu-series detailing Joanie Laurer’s life, and less than a month since REELZ released their own documentary titled “Wrestling with Demons,” and now the Biography series, in its third season of co-production with WWE, joins the fray with their own telling. Truth be told, if you’ve watched all three of them, then it’s safe to say you won’t be coming away with much new from A&E’s episode. Considering the Biography series is so long-running and A&E reaches a different audience than VICE or REELZ, though, it’s also safe to say that this would be the first time for many casual fans to watch her whole story unfold.
The two-hour episode (minus commercial time) is broken up into ten parts, conveniently arranged to fit around said commercial breaks. Throughout chapters such as the “The Bodyguard,” “The Champ is Here,” and “Finding Peace,” seemingly nothing is held back when discussing Laurer’s high and low points, of which there are plenty examples of both. The list of people contributing their opinions are wide and varied from both the wrestling world and her personal life, from her mother Jan LaQue (who denounced the REELZ project for its lack of veracity) and older sister Kathy, to Mick Foley, Kia “Awesome King” Stevens, biographer Jason King, and Chyna’s former manager Anthony Alzado.
LaQue remembers Joanie as a happy baby, who as she grew up loved putting on shows for people. After an altercation between them over suspected marijuana use when Joanie was 16, Joanie left home to live with her father. Interestingly, this leaves LaQue out of the documentary until the near the end, as she had no contact with her daughter. For Joanie’s sister Kathy, they stayed in touch much longer but, in a similar fashion, when Kathy tried to get Joanie to enter rehab after her WWF days, Joanie balked and they lost contact as well. She was very good, according to Kathy, at shutting people out once she decided to do so.
Backing up to before her wrestling career, though, Kathy and Jason King describe Joanie’s finding her way into the gym as the discovery of a safe haven. She loved the physicality, but loved the attention she garnered just as much. Going from job to job but maintaining her love of working out, Laurer met Gerry Blais, who would become both her trainer and her boyfriend. A chance decision by Joanie and Kathy to attend a WWF show, both dressed to impress, led to Joanie again loving the attention they received, and she would very soon be at Killer Kowalski’s training gym looking for a way into the world of pro wrestling.
As Laurer was recording much of her in ring work to build a portfolio for herself, there are some great clips of her in-ring work from before her stoic, DX bodyguard introduction in the WWF, and her athleticism is on full display. When she is brought in to the WWF at the insistence of Triple H and Shawn Michaels (and at the warning of Vince McMahon that if it doesn’t work out, it’s all on them), she arrives to shake up what Stevens calls the “popcorn match” state of women’s wrestling in the WWF … and what Terri Runnels calls “stupid shit” like Bra & Panties matches.
After a little unsolicited love for The Attitude Era and the Monday Night War, the episode gets back to business. Michaels reveals an interesting tidbit: there were instructions in place that he or Triple H had to weaken an opponent before Chyna could attack them, which he says was to make it believable and partly to soothe the concerns by some of the wrestlers about being slammed by a woman. Foley changed that narrative when he specifically sought to take some bumps for Chyna, which encouraged more men to do the same.
While Chyna’s success in the WWF takes her to the Royal Rumble, the King of the Ring tournament, and the Intercontinental Championship, Blais re-appears to describe the ending of their relationship as a slow realization that their lives were going in different directions. By this time, also, Laurer had begun dating Triple H. After Laurer’s plastic surgery is discussed in the context of her wanting to show her inner beauty on the outside (and Michaels saying the funny thing was that Triple H had fallen head over heels for her before that anyway), the first signs of her downfall appear as her relationship with Triple H ends while his and Stephanie McMahon’s begins.
After this happens, King notes that Laurer is booked into the women’s division more often, and even winning the Women’s Championship feels like a step down from how she had been booked prior. Still, she’s a champion, appears on the cover Playboy, and seems poised to cash in when her contract with the WWF comes up for renewal. Except, her expectations of being paid at a top-tier level like Steve Austin or The Undertaker are not met, so she turns down a new contract and, suddenly, her WWF days are done.
Laurer, unable to use the name “Chyna”, tries acting, a stint in New Japan wrestling, reality TV appearances, and in the middle of all of this re-connects with Sean Waltman. Both at this time are having alcohol and drug dependency issues, and neither is much good to the other. In seeking cash, they famously produce a sex-tape which horrifies Kathy. Laurer seems to find some peace teaching English in Japan, but there are suicide attempts and the threat of drug use always close at hand. Her manager, Alzado, concocts an idea to bring her back to America and film something like the Jake Roberts documentary The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, except it seems that Laurer was not ready to face her former demons, and Alzado is presented as someone who wasn’t in it for her betterment but for getting eyeballs on a film.
Indeed, right at the end, there’s a harrowing clip of Alzado approaching Laurer’s apartment following her death, filming as he opens the door to soon find her body. Thankfully, either because it doesn’t exist or because it isn’t shown, there’s nothing with Alzado actually making the discovery. Alzado was also responsible for setting up a memorial service for Laurer that LaQue says felt like a show, one which she had no intention of attending. Kathy, though shocked and saddened at the time of hearing the news, says she had nonetheless mourned for her sister years before she died, and was happy that she would find some peace.
The episode concludes with a tribute paid to Chyna at the WWE Hall of Fame induction of DX in 2019, and a touching story told by Foley about the connection that his daughter Noelle had with Laurer. Whatever the reason for a trend in presenting the life of Joanie Laurer, this entry feels like a complete telling of her story and, even if you have watched other documentaries about her, is still worth watching.
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