I know, I know. Seems like an odd post, right? Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a wrestling fan (in fact, I remember wrestling with my husband over the TV clicker when he was trying to watch WWE wrestling…except then, I think it was still the WWF).
But way back in 2001, I had an opportunity for a sit-down interview with Chyna, aka Joanie Laurer, as part of a piece that I was writing following the release of her autobiography, If They Only Knew.
Chyna and I had some odd intersections in our life paths. I had briefly attended her alma mater, the University of Tampa (and incidentally, I had offered the article I’d written to their newspaper, The Minaret, where I’d been selected to be the news editor as a freshman! But ultimately, I didn’t return after my roommate was killed in a car accident on Alligator Alley over Christmas break.)
After UT, I’d headed back home to the Boston area, where I lived in Melrose. Chyna had attended Wladek “Killer” Kowalski’s professional wrestling school in Malden, the next town over (and hence, the local interest when her autobiography was released.)
Around the time her book was released, I’d landed a private, sit-down interview with the female wrestler Chyna. I was the last reporter to interview her that day. Once the interview was complete, I mentioned that I too had attended the University of Tampa and one thing led to another and we started chatting (as girls often do!)
She’d caught a red-eye from Los Angeles and she was visibly tired, so she asked me if I wanted to grab a coffee. I agreed. So we walked the half-block to Starbucks, where we sat and chatted for about 45 minutes. It was a really surreal experience and I recall being surprised by how “normal” she was — something that always seems to hit home whenever I’ve interviewed a celebrity or other high profile person.
I was very surprised when she showed some sort of interest in me. After all, who was I? I was just a random journalist. She’d asked me about my recent interviews and I remember telling her about how the prior week, I had interviewed Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.)
I learned that she was a fellow vegan, animal lover and animal rights proponent. We started chatting about our animals and how we had arrived at our beliefs.
It was a really odd experience, albeit an enjoyable one. I’d met an actual person that day; not the over-the-top caricature that was the wrestler Chyna. She was an empowered, kick-ass chick who just happened to be a pretty cool woman “in real life.”
Sadly, there’s speculation that her death was the result of a drug overdose. So sad, as I’d read that publicly, she was into “clean, healthy living.” And Chyna’s death was also overshadowed by the loss of a high(er) profile celebrity, Prince, who died on April 21, 2016 – the same day Chyna’s body was discovered in her apartment by a friend. (It has been reported that she was deceased for at least a day.)
Rest in peace, Chyna. You were a cool chick.