Chyna is the third major wrestler to die since I started this blog over a year ago, with Dusty Rhodes and Roddy Piper. Her death probably has the least personal meaning to me out of all of them. Part of it is that I was never a big fan of her in ring work. But a large part is that Chyna’s story is a sad story, one that overshadows the rest of her career. We can hope that her death lets her find the peace she was unable to find in life.
At the height of the Attitude Era, Chyna was in the top three of most popular person on the roster. WWE will always talk about how DX was a super popular group that paved the way, but the most popular person in Degeneration X wasn’t Shawn Michaels, and it certainly wasn’t HHH. It was Chyna. Crowds couldn’t get enough of her. Steve Austin was obviously the most popular wrestlers, and then you had guys like The Rock and Mick Foley, but right below them was Chyna.
Her wrestling legacy, much like her personal story, is complicated though. The first woman in the Royal Rumble. The first and only woman to hold a men’s title. She never had a great match in the WWE, but her being in the ring with the men was such a novelty that work rate never mattered. When other women on the roster were having pillow fights in lingerie, she was winning championships. A lot of people the last few days have come out and said Chyna was inspirational, that she broke barriers by being treated like one of the guys, and I have to wonder if those people actually watched wrestling in the late 90’s.
Chyna was not treated like one of the guys. Chyna was treated like a freak. By commentary, by other wrestlers, by fans, Chyna was considered an androgynous mutant, something no “normal” girl could be or should want to be. It’s a problem with intergender wrestling in general, even in modern times. Just watch Lucha Underground for some pretty cringe-worthy examples. But Chyna wasn’t treated as a woman either. There was no sex appeal with Chyna, even when they tried. To be fair, woman in Attitude Era WWE were universally treated as sex objects, and I suppose Chyna at least broke that mold. But people are looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, and maybe that makes the passing of a wrestler easier for them. I can’t do that. Chyna was someone the WWE didn’t know how to treat, and so usually did the worst job possible.
Such treatment surely didn’t help the turmoil that came during the end of her WWE career. There’s so much “he said, she said,” about her personal life during and after her wrestling career that it’s impossible to look at it objectively. Sides end up being taken regardless of how neutral one tries to be. But out of everyone involved, there’s no doubt that Chyna had received the worst of it. For a less sad version of the story, look at Sean Waltman. X-Pac had many of the same drug and alcohol problems that Chyna did, and the two were together for several years. But Waltman is on good terms with WWE, recovering from his addictions, and Chyna is dead.
Her legacy is a hard one. HHH said several months ago that Chyna couldn’t be in the WWE Hall of Fame, despite her accomplishments, because of her career in pornography. No doubt that is one of the most disingenuous comments ever made by Hunter. If he’s worried about his kids Googling a Hall of Famer and finding bad things about them, he better get busy scourging the internet. It was a bullshit answer then, and only looks like more bullshit now, as surely the question of her getting into the WWE Hall of Fame will come up again and again now.
The comment also seemed to set Chyna off, and her behavior became more erratic, or at least more public, climaxing in a surreal radio interview in which she made a lot of accusations, of domestic violence and being drugged and raped. Sean Waltman eventually called in, the two arguing on live radio about their history. It’s a bizarre interview, and I’m not real comfortable calling either one of them a liar. But Waltman took responsibility for his drug use, while Chyna insisted she never had a drug problem.
I don’t know what killed Chyna. Whether it was drugs or suicide or depression or any number of other things that could have gone wrong with her. But every person has a story. And though she had some amazing high points, her story is a sad one, with a sad ending that, unfortunately, was not a surprise.