LOS ANGELES (AP) – Chyna, the tall, muscle-bound, raven-haired pro-wrestler who rocketed to popularity in the 1990s after taking on both women and men in the ring and later revealed her struggles with addiction on reality TV, has died, authorities said. She was 46.
Police in Southern California said they were responding to a 911 call from a friend of the former World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler when they found her dead in her Redondo Beach apartment.
The friend had gone Wednesday to check on Chyna, whose real name is Joan Marie Laurer, after she failed to answer her phone for a few days, Redondo Beach police said in a statement.
Officials didn’t immediately release a cause of death, but investigators said there were no indications of foul play. Police initially reported the death as a “possible overdose,” Los Angeles County’s Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said.
An autopsy was planned in the next few days, he said, but it could be weeks before the results of toxicology tests are known.
“She was truly a pioneer in our industry, and she will be missed,” tweeted Stephanie McMahon, an owner and executive with WWE.
Laurer was “someone who wasn’t afraid to blaze her own trail and create a path for those who would follow,” wrestler Triple H said on Twitter. “A pioneer whose star shined bright. #RIPChyna.”
Laurer billed herself as the “9th Wonder of the World” because her wrestling predecessor Andre the Giant had already called himself the eighth. She was a member of the wrestling squad that dubbed itself “D-Generation X,” was often pitted against men and at one point was the WWE women’s champion.
After leaving the WWE in 2001, Laurer was determined to stay active in the entertainment industry. She wrote an autobiography, became a semi-regular on Howard Stern’s radio show and appeared in TV sitcoms like “3rd Rock From the Sun” and reality shows including “The Surreal Life.” She posed for Playboy and appeared in adult films.
Laurer later came clean about her struggles with drugs on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.”
A statement posted Wednesday night on her website reads, “Today we lost a true icon, a real life superhero. Joanie Laurer aka Chyna, the 9th Wonder of the World has passed away. She will live forever in the memories of her millions of fans and all of us that loved her.”
Laurer was a native of Rochester, New York, and graduated from the University of Tampa in Florida before taking up wrestling.
She joins a long list of WWE professional wrestlers who have died relatively young, including Rick Rude, Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, the Ultimate Warrior and Owen Hart.