WWE star Chyna, a University of Tampa graduate, dead at 46 (w/video)

The former reality TV and WWE superstar had a troubled and well-publicized life.
Joan Laurer, known as Chyna, was a University of Tampa grad and one of the most popular female pro wrestlers in the '90s. Associated Press (2003)
Joan Laurer, known as Chyna, was a University of Tampa grad and one of the most popular female pro wrestlers in the '90s.Associated Press (2003)
Published April 21 2016
Updated April 21 2016

Chyna, the sculpted 1990s WWE superstar and University of Tampa graduate, was found dead in her Southern California home on Wednesday, authorities said. She was 46.

Her real name was Joan Marie Laurer, but as Chyna she was one of the best-known and most popular female professional wrestlers in history. She also had a troubled personal life of well-publicized bouts with substance abuse and pornographic films that ostracized her from the WWE.

She was a member of the wrestling squad that dubbed itself "D-Generation X," and she often wrestled against men. At one point Chyna was the WWE women's champion, billing herself as the "Ninth Wonder of the World"

A native of Rochester, N.Y., she graduated in August of 1991 from the University of Tampa with a major in Spanish, according to UT spokesman Eric Cardenas. Her official biography says she also studied French and German and could converse in either language.

After college, Laurer began to regularly enter fitness competitions. In 1997, Vince McMahon hired her for her World Wrestling Federation debut that year.

Her original role was as a bodyguard who often helped Triple H (then a rising villain) cheat to win by interfering in matches. She was later introduced as "Chyna," a play on the image of fine china that is delicate and fragile for a female bodybuilder who could bench press more than 200 pounds.

After leaving the WWE in 2001, Laurer posed for Playboy and appeared in adult films and on reality TV, including Fear Factor and The Surreal Life.

She appeared in the first season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew in 2008 for alcohol addiction. She later relapsed and entered rehab. In September 2010, Laurer was hospitalized after overdosing on sleeping medication.

On Wednesday, police in Southern California said they were responding to a 911 call from a friend of the former wrestler when they found her dead in her Redondo Beach apartment.

A friend had gone Wednesday to check on Laurer, after she had failed to answer her phone for a few days, Redondo Beach police said in a statement. The friend told the 911 operator that Laurer wasn't breathing, and she was dead when officers arrived, police said. Neither police nor coroner's officials have released any cause of death.

Laurer's death was reported to the Los Angeles County coroner's department as a possible overdose, said department spokesman Ed Winter. An autopsy is expected to be conducted over the next two days, he said, and the results of toxicology tests could take weeks.

On her official website a statement posted Wednesday night 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."

Information from the Associated Press and Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne was used in this report.