A cover of Newsweek in 2000 featured two popular pro wrestlers of the era—Chyna and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson." Sixteen years later, Johnson has turned that fame into a big-time movie career. As for Chyna, the biggest female wrestler of all time died earlier this year of a drug overdose. What happened? A lengthy story at Bleacher Report traces the steady decline that began when she left the WWE in 2001 because she felt a base salary of $400,000 in a new contract was too low. She had been a teetotaller as a wrestler. In the years that followed, she would become addicted to drugs—including binges on crystal meth—and alcohol. The downward spiral was scary and fast, involving suicide attempts, a sex tape, and run-ins with the police.
“What people need to remember is that she was mentally ill,” says Sean Waltman, a former fiance (and sex-tape partner). “Drugs definitely didn’t help the problem, but she was just using those to self-medicate from the pain that comes from being messed up in the head, from the childhood trauma and other stuff that happened in her life." Adds WWE broadcaster Jim Ross, "She just couldn't overcome her demons." The story recounts how Chyna (real name, Joanie Laurer) first got into wrestling after gaining attention with her sister as bodybuilders and how, years later, Chyna would cut ties with her sister over an attempt to get her into rehab. “I didn't recognize the person I saw that day,” says Kathy Hamilton. “It was like the devil had invaded Joanie’s body.” Read the full story. (Read more Chyna stories.)