I’ve never been a huge Sunny fan but I do respect her impact on the history of World Wrestling Entertainment. She’s managed some all-time great tag teams (in 1996 she was even PWI’s “Manager of the Year”) and many consider her the “original” Diva. It’s just always been hard to separate Sunny’s “in-ring character” with the “real-life issues” that seem to follow her around.
Sunny certainly isn’t alone here. It has been well-documented that many professional wrestlers struggle to maintain their center amid all the pressures of their career. When I was reading the recent stories about Sunny I thought back to an article I had written a few years ago about another fallen Diva, Chyna. Both women achieved great success in WWE, and both have now fallen to dramatic lows. The similarities of their stories are pretty interesting, so I thought I would share my previous article. Remarkably you could almost swap “Sunny” for “Chyna” and the story still holds.
I don’t get out much anymore. Balancing a job, a mortgage, a wife, and 2 kids doesn’t leave a lot of time for other interests. We try to see friends and family as much as possible but it’s difficult to get everybody’s schedules to match up. I try to do a little acting here and there, just to keep the creative juices flowing. I write about pro wrestling for the same reasons. It’s all good and I’m certainly not complaining, but life is sure different than when my wife and I met in college. Back then our most important decision was “Bud or Bud Light?” Now we worry about things like parent-teacher conferences and soccer practice (By the way I’m officially a soccer mom now…who needs orange wedges? Off to McDonald’s!) It’s not like we were the Rolling Stones, but my wife and I used to love hitting the DC clubs and staying out a little too late. We used to have 2 or 3 house parties each year that wouldn’t wrap until the sun was shining. Good times. Now a wild night for us is staying awake until they announce the American Idol results. So when my friend Patrick invited us to his end-of-summer party a few weeks ago, we reacted like lions at Morton’s Steakhouse. “We’re going….OUT?”
If only it were that simple. Should we both go? Should I go? Should she go? Are kids invited? Do we bring the kids even if they are? Do we drive? Should we get a taxi service? Should we spend the night? All things to consider. It’s not that we never go out just the two of us, but it better be for a damn good reason. Once you start getting babysitters involved the complexity of the evening triples, as does the cost. So normally we’ll all go somewhere, or one of us goes out while the other stays home and keeps the family train on track. The question though is “Which one of us gets to go?” I know, romantic right? (I’m happy to say the honeymoon is never over around here.)
Our schedules are complex and our lives require a great deal of planning. Over the years we have actually gotten very good at working together and managing our responsibilities. It is a constantly evolving adventure that lines up with what Roddy Piper used to say, “Just when you think you have all the answers, I change the questions!” In this case “life” is frequently changing the questions. What got us through Monday doesn’t always work on Tuesday. Grab a hold and ride the wave. My wife and I are experts at that.
We ultimately decided that Patrick’s party was not “baby-sitter” worthy. Our decision was based on the same mathematical formula NASA uses to reposition satellites. Only one of us would go, and it was my turn to go out. Cool.
The night of the party I got dressed up and headed out. Patrick and his wife Helen live in a beautiful DC condo that features a scenic view of the city. They pieced together a really nice party that featured good food, great wine, and fun music. I have to admit it was liberating being there without the kids. And since I was planning to stay there that night I didn’t have to worry about drinking and driving (Patrick and I have been friends since we were 3 years old. We’ve had more sleepovers than the Matt and Jeff Hardy.)
I started to mingle. I like meeting new people so I enjoyed working the room, eventually settling next to a group of people talking about their hobbies and interests. One guy loved NASCAR. One girl liked training for marathons. One couple talked about their recent vacation to Italy. Then I thought, ‘what the hell’, I poured myself some more sangria and said “I love professional wrestling, especially women’s professional wrestling.” SCREEECH! I just wish I could have captured the different looks I saw at that very moment. Horror. Fascination. Amusement. Disbelief. I could have said I was 5 months pregnant and not seen such a rainbow of emotions. It was magnificent.
I continued, “And not only that, I’m a wrestling journalist and I host a radio show every week. It’s great fun!” People were frozen. I could hear pins dropping. One girl eventually reached over and poured herself another sangria, finishing it in one big gulp. I’m not sure if people were digesting the fact that I mentioned women’s professional wrestling or the fact that I was so damn proud and excited about it. Hard to tell. Finally a girl opened her mouth and broke the silence. I knew exactly what was coming next….
“Oh, so you guys talk about that girl…um…Chyna?” At the mention of her name, the others nodded along, showing some sense of recognition.
I said, “Sure sometimes we do. Chyna definitely had a major impact on the industry. You know Joanie Laurer has had a lot of personal problems since leaving the WWE though, it’s really kind of sad.”
“Really?!?” No one knew about that. No one knew about her struggles with addiction or her infamous sex tape. No one knew about her appearances on The Surreal Life or Celebrity Rehab. To them she had just disappeared. Here was a woman who at one time was front and center of the entire WWE Attitude Era, a major part of D-Generation X, and someone who’s fame extended beyond the walls of her profession. The small group of people around me had definitely heard of her, but they hadn’t thought of her in many many years. Celebrity can be a strange bedfellow. Here one day, gone the next.
I mentioned earlier how my wife and I have gotten better at managing life’s transitions. How we work hard to find a sense of equilibrium when faced with both expected and unexpected changes. But make no mistake; it took a lot of emotional growth, a lot of cooperation. As “normal” people we have the luxury of working these things out in private. That’s the thing about celebrity – the visibility. Your life is played out on Entertainment Tonight, Twitter, and People magazine. Sure the visibility brings wealth and excess, all advantages of being famous, but there are so many examples of people that can’t handle it. Especially when that visibility, that fame, that adulation, is taken away.
Or in the case of Chyna, when it was yanked away.
Can you imagine the fall from WWE superstar to industry pariah? Chyna’s fall from grace is staggering. Sadly though, this is a major part of Chyna’s story and colors the success she experienced as a ground-breaking performer.
When Chyna broke into the WWE in 1997 she immediately rocketed to the forefront of the company. Her association with Triple H and Shawn Michaels couldn’t have come at a better time, right when D-Generation X was exploding into one of the best storylines the industry has ever seen. Sure, dating HHH sure helped Chyna get established, but her success in the WWE can’t be denied
Chyna began her on-screen career as Triple H’s bodyguard and she certainly looked the part. Large and imposing from years of bodybuilding, Chyna was believable in the role and became a valuable member of DX. I remember thinking how cool it was to see a women used like this. Chyna continued to break down barriers. Her career included an appearance in the Royal Rumble, a spot in the King of the Ring tournament, a reign as Women’s champion, and most notably 2 reigns as WWE Intercontinental champion. That’s quite a resume.
But you can’t mention her in-ring achievements without mentioning how her personal relationship with HHH ultimately affected her career. Once HHH broke up with her she found herself out of the WWE, and then basically out of professional wrestling (she did make a few appearances overseas…but compared to where she had been, refereeing for New Japan Pro Wrestling is a low blow to the groin, Chyna-style.)
If you want a good laugh, check out Joanie’s journey into film and television. It’s safe to say her IMDB page isn’t as impressive as she might have hoped. Trust me; no one will confuse her with Angelina Jolie (or even Angelina Love for that matter). I found it interesting she auditioned for a role in Terminator 3 but didn’t get the part, another blow to her ego. That could have been a nice break for her. It is pretty shocking that she made two Playboy appearances given the fact that she was never considered beautiful. I’m not exactly sure how much plastic surgery she’s had, but it’s safe to assume she has Joan Rivers’s doctor on speed dial. My God even her breast implants were so remarkable they required a special model number: the Chyna 2000s!
Actually, the more I think about it, there is nothing funny about any of this. How could anybody handle that kind of life change? Legitimate WWE superstar to playing “Teddy Archibald” in “Cougar Club”. A spectacular rise. A spectacular fall. In private that would be hard enough to deal with. In public, it is a guaranteed disaster. Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised any time I looked in the paper and saw the words “Former WWE star” + “Chyna” + “arrested”. Or “Chyna” + “releases” + “sex tape”.
All of this is just very, very, sad. I sincerely hope Chyna can overcome her difficulties and eventually move on to a better life. Unfortunately, for now, she is the perfect example of how fame and celebrity can be taken away, and once it is, how damaging that can be.
Pretty similar stories, right? Both Chyna and Sunny were pioneers in the WWE, but now over the past ten years have found themselves in constant trouble. To be clear I don’t blame professional wrestling. All the wrestlers know this is a tough career when they get into it. My hope is that Chyna and Sunny serve as examples of how tough it can be when wrestlers actually get out.