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Joanie Laurer Discusses Leaving Chyna Behind

Aired August 29, 2001 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, she ruled the ring playing Chyna for the WWF. Brains, brawn, smack-down beauty, Joanie Laurer talks about battling with bulima (sic), abusive boyfriends and an exploding implant. She's going to take your calls, too.

And then exclusive. You know LeVar Burton as Kunta Kinte of "Roots" and Geordi La Forge on "Star Trek," in the next generation, of course. He's also a son who saved his mother's life. LeVar Burton and Erma Christian share their dramatic medical story for the first time.

And Chandra Levy's parents speak out for the first time about Gary Condit's media blitz. Discussion on that and other developments from our no-holds-barred panel. In Washington, former federal prosecutor, best-selling author, Barbara Olson. In New York, former prosecutor, now Court TV anchor, Nancy Grace. In Los Angeles, defense attorney Mark Geragos. And back in D.C., chief minority counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, Julian Epstein.

And they're all next on LARRY KING LIVE!

And I know it's bulimia, but I said bulima because this is a long intro tonight. Quite a show tonight, We've got quite a show tonight, but I want to begin by telling you of an exclusive we have here tomorrow night.

Tomorrow night, for the entire hour, Gary Condit's six top people on his administrative staff will be the guests, including Mike Dayton. Mike Dayton and the staff for Gary Condit on this show. All six, tomorrow night, live.

Let's get into our panel and what they make of the -- well, the goings-on, the comments of the Levys -- Mark.

MARK GERAGOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's understandable, I suppose. I mean, the fact of the matter remains is that what has been said and what has been done at this point on the Levys' behalf is to try and keep this thing in the media, try and keep their daughter out there...

KING: Which anyone would do.

GERAGOS: Which anyone who is a parent -- or not even a parent -- would do at the same time. So you can't begrudge them anything at this point. KING: Barbara Olson, all the political folk are kind of predicting that he will not run again. Do you share that view?

BARBARA OLSON, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, if you look at the fact that the Democratic leadership is now turning on him, it makes it very difficult. Gray Davis is going to be doing redistricting. He's not going to have that conservative Democratic district that overwhelmingly reelected him. Everyone's saying they're going to add some more liberal Democrats, so it's not likely, even, that he would make it through a primary, which I think he'll see the writing on the wall.

I expect, over next two weeks, senior members of his party will come. They're going to have a caucus next Wednesday when they come back in. I think it will be very quiet, but I think he'll get the message that he doesn't have the support of his party.

KING: Julian, if that occurs, if he says I'm not going to run again, he finishes out this term, and God forbid, Chandra -- no further word. Does this just go away?

JULIAN EPSTEIN, FORMER DEMOCRATIC COUNSEL, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: No, I don't think so. I don't think the story goes away until we find out what happened to Chandra Levy. And I think Barbara is right. It's almost a little bit like Caesar returning to the Senate in whenever it was, 44 BC.

I think that a lot of the discussions, at least on the Democratic side, are now beginning to occur in Gary Condit's absence. And I think that the handwriting is starting to get written on the walls. You know, the last time somebody tried to ride out a storm like this where there was an extramarital affair and a missing or dead body was Woodrow Wilson 1912, where he thought he could ride out the storm without answering the questions.

I think if Gary Condit either wants to save the reputation or if he does want to run again, the key thing for him, as I said last night, is to come out and answer some of these unanswered questions, because I think this was a survivable thing for him. I don't think he had anything do with the crime, but the way he's dealing with it -- if you look at all the people in the last 20 years that have gone down in admits to scandal, it's more often how you deal with the problem rather than the underlying misconduct itself. And I think how he's dealt with it has not been good so far.

KING: Nancy, the Levys deny making any request of Condit not to speak about his relationship with their daughter, yet their attorney did say that, did he not?

NANCY GRACE, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, he said it, but it must be taken in the context in which their attorney said it. They certainly, as part and parcel of that very interview, were asking for more information from Condit regarding their daughter. Regarding Condit running again, the kicker about the comparison to Caesar is that Caesar did return and he was stabbed to death on the floor of the forum. And I predict, agreeing with Julian...

GERAGOS: Which Nancy would love to do in this case, I'll tell you.


GERAGOS: ... no problem stabbing him as soon as he comes back. She has been as angry at him as anybody I've ever seen.

KING: Good line, Mark, but try not to interrupt. Go ahead.


KING: What?

GRACE: I take no joy in his downfall, but my chief concern is what information he has that could help in finding Chandra or her body. And as far as the Levys go, they have been reduced to pawns in the part of his media blitz to rehab his own reputation.

KING: What do you make, Barbara, of the staff, six of them, coming here tomorrow night? First time ever?

OLSON: Well, I know I'm going to be watching. It will be interesting because the news that's just broken -- you know, Abbe Lowell said that Gary Condit didn't tell his staff to go out and make the statements denying the relationship with Chandra Levy. Somehow or another the staff just decided to walk out, talk about a scandal involving their member without any conversation.

As a former staffer, most of us who've ever worked on the Hill, that doesn't happen. Staff doesn't do that. Especially Gary Condit's staff who, one's been with him 10 years and one has been with him, I think, up to almost three decades. This is a long-serving staff that know him very well. It will be very interesting to get their answers, their look at things and sort of their version, since they all have lawyers now. They all have potential liability in a criminal area. They're going to have to be careful as well. And let's hope they're forthcoming with you and tell you what really was going on.

KING: Why are they coming on...


KING: Why do you think they are coming forward?

GERAGOS: I think at a certain point that people saw Chad talking, and I think that it's a natural inclination on these people to want to talk and to try and get out the message that this guy, who has been so demonized in the media, is not the devil incarnate that they've made him out to be. I think a lot of these people, my guess would be, are going to try and tell a story about who the Gary Condit is that they know, as opposed to the one that -- the portrait that's been painted in the media.

KING: Julian, do you agree?

EPSTEIN: Well, yes. And again, I worked with Gary Condit. I worked with him in a professional context. I don't know him in a social context, but I worked with him and he was really a decent, very hard-working, very honest, very enjoyable guy to work with. And I think Mark is exactly right. Chad coming on your program the other night and talking and going as far as he wanted to go, and drawing the line where he thought it was appropriate to draw the line, I think a lot of people saw that and said if you make more of an effort, then I think Gary Condit appeared last Thursday night to try to be up front, to try to explain in human terms what happened. You begin to paint a more sympathetic case.

But the sina qua non, the acid test for Gary Condit is, I think, the lingering impression is that he's failed to answer some important questions. A lot of people argue it's not relevant to where Chandra is, but again, as I said last night, people think you lie about little things, they think you may be lying about big things. Ultimately, it's going to be up to him, if he wants to clear his name, at least in the public realm, I think to come out and answer some of these questions that he hasn't answered yet.

GERAGOS: But at the same time, I think people also want to hear from people. I think people want to hear from the staff. I think people were interested obviously, in hearing from Chad. I mean, if Cadee wants to talk, I think people want to hear from Cadee and Carolyn as well.

KING: Let me get a break...


KING: Let me get a break. We'll come right back with our panel. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Chyna is still to come! Don't go away.


QUESTION: Was there a specific request by you, by the two of you, asking Mr. Condit not to speak about a relationship he had with your daughter?




KING: Nancy, are you happy that tomorrow night the staff is coming, at least, speaking out on this issue, which thus far has been kind of moot? Or mute?

GRACE: Yes, I'm very interested in it, and this is why: I fully expected Chad Condit to say everything that he said, to be evasive when he was evasive, and I respected his loyalty to his father. But he saw only the side of his father his father wanted him to see. I think we've all had the wool pulled over our eyes by Gary Condit, and I think that his staff may know him in a very different way, and we'll have a lot of intimate facts about his life.

KING: Newport Beach, California. Include some phone calls -- hello.

CALLER: Hi. I've been watching your show every night for four months. Friday night and last night, both Barbara Olson and Nancy Grace have said there are clues out there, there is evidence out there, but we just can't figure it out. Well, I have something that keeps gnawing at me. One question would be to them, one question would be to Julian Epstein.

But my first question is: Gary Condit crossed state lines, dumped a watch box with no watch in it. Where is the watch? Is it on Chandra Levy? Could she have it? Could he know that she has it? I mean, that would be reason to cross state lines for a watch box.

KING: And, Julian? What is your question for him, and then we'll have them respond.

CALLER: And my question for Julian. You're very well respected. I have watched you and you keep saying come forward, be honest. So my question for you, since you know all these congressmen -- I watched "CNN SUNDAY" with Wolf Blitzer. He had a congressman on that said that Condit should resign, and in same breath he mentioned an intern from California that worked for another California congressman, Joyce Chang.

KING: What's your question?

CALLER: My question is, could there be a connection with Joyce Chang and Gary Condit?

KING: All right. Let's take it first things first. Barbara and Nancy, your response? Where is the watch?

GRACE: Well, I doubt very seriously that Chandra would have been wearing the watch. Reason -- not because it wasn't a very expensive watch, which, by all accounts, it was. But that was a watch given to him by another woman. And I guarantee you Chandra Levy, from the little I know about her, is not going to be sporting a gift from her boyfriend from his old lover, OK?

KING: You add anything, Barbara?

OLSON: I was just going to say, tomorrow night I'm assuming we're going to get some answers. Mike Dayton, we all know, Gary Condit was driven by staff, you're right. He crossed lines. And now Gary Condit says he was just throwing trash away. Instead of putting it in his garbage can, where no one would notice, he decided to take it into Virginia and throw it away inside a McDonald's french fry box. You're right, it's very curious. But some staff was there. Maybe they can throw some light on that, as well as -- since Mike Dayton is the one who introduced Joleen McKay to Gary Condit and actually set up their first date.

KING: All right, and, Julian, you want to respond? EPSTEIN: I think the segue way between the answers that Nancy and Barbara just gave and the question to me is, I think, that if he can't dispose of the boxes, I said the other night, I hardly think he can pull anything off like an abduction or a murder.

But secondly, I think that the -- I would associate myself with the comments of John Walsh, who says that the connection to Joyce Chang is actually, if anything, he believes exculpatory of Gary Condit, because he believes that there is a serial murderer or a serial abductor that's going on in that area because there are so many similarities that occurred between the two. I don't think anybody has in any way really credibly associated Gary Condit and Joyce Chang. So I think it's exculpatory, if anything.

KING: In truth, Mark, we don't know anything.

GERAGOS: Of course we don't. I mean, when you say that there is clues or evidence out there, that's precisely the non-point. There are...

KING: There are leads.

GERAGOS: There are some leads, but as far as clues or evidence, no. This is a complete vacuum. It's a black hole.

KING: Are odds, in your opinion, that Chandra is gone forever?

GERAGOS: Well, the odds are that this thing has gotten about as cold as it can get. I mean, that's the -- I mean, there were statements made early on that they had some things, there have been statements recently that they had some things, but it appears at this point...

KING: They've apparently called a mental patient into Washington, but dismissed that as...

GERAGOS: Exactly.

OLSON: Mark, how can you call it a back hole when we have a person and Gary Condit, who was having an intimate sexual relationship with the woman up until the day she's missing. We hear new facts every time we turn around. Gary Condit's interview, for the first time we talk about now he says that Chandra was on a train all of a sudden, and that's why he wasn't concerned. Although he talked to the Levys, who offered a reward for her. This isn't black hole! This is a curious -- more curious set of facts, and the more Condit talks, the more curious it gets.

GERAGOS: It's only curious when you don't get the facts right, or when you keep focusing on the things that are irrelevant, or you keep focusing on things that are immaterial. The police have already said he's not a central focus. They've moved away from him.

KING: I have to get one more break...

GERAGOS: If you could get some of these blonds toe move away from him, you'd be even better off.

KING: We'll spend some more moments with our panel, and then we'll meet the wrestler Joanie Laurer, formerly known as Chyna. And later, LeVar Burton, the wonderful actor, and his mother, Erma. LeVar gave a kidney to his mother. He's going to talk about it publicly for the first time tonight. We'll be right back. Don't go away.


KING: Want to get one more call in. Whitesburg, Kentucky, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry, how are you?

KING: Fine.

CALLER: My two questions is: do you think that they will find Chandra Levy, and the second question is do you think Gary Condit will eventually resign?

KING: All right. Do you think they'll ever find her? We'll ask Julian. It's purely a guess...

EPSTEIN: I think eventually they do at some point. I think that they will. I don't think Gary Condit will resign. I think he's riding out the storm, but I am less than 50-50 as to whether he will run again.

KING: Nancy, what do you...

GRACE: I don't think...

KING: Nancy.

GRACE: Yes, I think that ultimately -- and I pray that ultimately Chandra or her remains will be found. And in addition to what the earlier caller said, we do have clues in this case. As this case develops, every single day, I agree with Barbara, we learn more and more and more. Just because we haven't found Chandra does not mean we haven't learned. We have ruled out the theory of accident, suicide, random rape or murder. We know that cases have been cracked even years and years later. I have cracked them myself, and I think that will happen in Chandra's case.

KING: You do. Barbara, are you optimistic?

OLSON: Oh, I think Chandra Levy will be found. You know, no one disappears into thin air. Someone saw something, besides the people responsible. It just always happens. It just hasn't clicked, or for whatever reason, the person hasn't come forward. I think there are clues that will be put together.

And the second part of the question, about whether Gary will resign, His own party doesn't want him to resign. They don't want to hole, they don't want a special election. I think really what his party would like is him not to run again, them to put a candidate forward, so that doesn't become a Republican seat. Right now with House, that's so important, so I don't think he'll resign.

GRACE: Barbara, another issue regarding whether or not they'll ever find Chandra or solve this case: even now we see people beginning to come out of the woodwork, like his staff. They haven't said a word so far, but as each day passes, more and more people come forward. Something's going to give.

KING: I'll give you an example contrary to that, Mark. Give me Hoffa.


GERAGOS: And I was going to say -- I was waiting the whole time, since they were so sure that something was going to happen. There are plenty of cases and plenty of examples of people who have disappeared into thin air, and nobody's...

KING: If Jimmy Hoffa, I knew very well, if Jimmy Hoffa is in concrete under a building, then...

GERAGOS: Exactly. You're not going to ever find him. You don't know where he is. You don't know where he is.

Barbara does. She's got some clues.

OLSON: I think we can all agree that Hoffa was a very professional job.


KING: Oh, very. Now you're saying same thing here?

OLSON: Well, we don't know. I mean, I don't think it is the kind of level that Jimmy Hoffa was. We know that was done in a very professional way. The body was never going to be found. For all we know Chandra Levy was fine one minute and disappeared the next minute, and it was in Washington, D.C. I don't think she was on a train, despite what GARY CONDIT thought. And so I think somebody saw something. Washington is a city where people see things all the time.

KING: The panel will watch the show tomorrow night as I hope many other people will, and they will come back here Friday night to discuss it as we will with you. We'll take calls for the panel as well tomorrow night when Mike Dayton and the rest of the staff of Gary Condit will all be here on this show, live tomorrow night.

We thank you all very much for being with us. They will all be back on Friday. The staff tomorrow night, and when we come back, Joan Laurer the lady formerly known as Chyna. She was on the front cover of a "Playboy" issue that was the biggest selling issue in "Playboy" history. We'll be right back.


KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE, Joanie Laurer, the lady formerly known as Chyna. She played that character for the World Wrestling Federation. She wrote a "New York Times" bestseller called, "If They Only Knew." She has departed from World Wrestling Federation. There you see the cover of the book. And we will find out why. But for the benefit of those uninitiated, let's watch a little of the former wrestler known as Chyna doing her thing. Watch.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is what we saw, and...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't want to have any part of (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best selling issue ever in the history of "Playboy" magazine.


KING: You like hitting men? Is that is it?

JOANIE LAURER, FORMERLY "CHYNA" FOR WWF: I like playing the character of Chyna where I hit men and it was kind of the great equalizer, and when I see that, Larry I actually giggle a little bit.

KING: Because?

LAURER: It is just meat to me to have been able to go out and make my mark, in what I always consider to mostly always be a male fraternity, and you know, I think that I took a character and because of my athletic ability, and love of entertainment I put the two together, and Chyna became a household name.

KING: Who picked the name?

LAURER: They did. It was just a character name.

KING: Do you know why particularly Chyna with a "y"?

LAURER: No I don't.

KING: Did you like it right away?

LAURER: I loved it.

KING: What gave you the idea to even go to the WWF?

LAURER: Well, Larry I was, as I say, I have always been athletic. I have been an athlete from the age of 15, 16, years old. I did every type of intramural could you imagine, very active throughout my college sports life. And I also happened to be an entertainer from time I was little. I danced on my toes, played a musical instrument and I love acting and all the flash, the hair, and the makeup and the costumes. And you put the two together, and I got wrestling.

KING: And you went to them?

LAURER: Yes I did.

KING: They bought it right away? The liked it right away?

LAURER: No, they didn't actually. I actually had to beg for that job. I faxed them my picture every day, and showed up at all the shows, and basically wouldn't take no for an answer.

KING: Why, then, did you leave? You had it all. You were top draw for them. Your cover of "Playboy" is the best-selling issue ever in magazine's history and that magazine has had an illustrious history, then you leave. What happened?

LAURER: Well, there are many reasons. One is the reality of it is that I didn't leave. I was released from my contract.

KING: Because?

LAURER: Well my contract was up for renewal, and we just couldn't come to terms. And I feel that...

KING: Just purely financial is why you left?

LAURER: I don't think it's purely financial. I think there were many reasons. One of them is that Vince McMahon had just purchased WCW, kind of monopolizing the sports entertainment industry, and I was really their first big star coming up for renewal, and the contract which I was offered didn't allow me (a) to take advantage of all the opportunity that was coming my way.

KING: You couldn't do other things?

LAURER: I couldn't do other things. (b) I would have gone backwards financially, and (c) I have really milked that cow, and I wasn't going to move up, be the world champion, and I felt like I would have gone backwards to my career, and I don't want to do that to myself and I don't want to do that to my fans who have watched me.

KING: How about the scenario that had your co-star and boyfriend Triple H, real name Paul Levesque, leaving you for Stephanie, the daughter of Vince McMahon.

LAURER: What's the question, Larry?

KING: Is that part of this leaving process?

LAURER: Well it is true, that happened.

KING: Were you mad at that?

LAURER: Well I'm a human being. It hurt me very much. But I would like to say that I tried to be as professional as I could and didn't let that affect my decision or my negotiations with them. You know, first people come in and out of your lives, and any relationship hurts, whether you are a celebrity or not. But I had my career to take care and that is my first priority.

KING: What have you been doing?

LAURER: Well, I'm glad you asked, because, in spite of the situation, this is all been extremely positive, and I think all of this happening has really given me a big kick in the butt and I have gone out there and taken all the six years of what I have been doing, and putting that to use now.

I just signed for a play, a small theater in Toronto, it is called "My Darling Judith" which I will be doing in December. I just finished a Lion's Gate episode of "Tracker," their new syndicated show.

KING: You want to do movies, films, television?

LAURER: Absolutely and I'm doing that. And as you can see, in honor of the shirt that I'm wearing, that I assigned a new deal with "Playboy" yesterday, as a matter of fact.

KING: To do -- yesterday.

LAURER: To be the January cover girl.

KING: Again.

LAURER: Again.

KING: They are bringing you back.


KING: No hesitancy about posing nude?

LAURER: Absolutely not. I think one of the reasons why that issue was such a big seller was, one, because yes, I had a great promotion behind me and people loved the character of Chyna.

But. Larry, I had more women coming through the lines at autograph sessions, more minorities, blacks, gays, you know, all these people who I think you know really meant something for them to have somebody different take a stand and be put out there.

KING: This might seem difficult, but what do you think it is about the character? And you? That made it so appealing. Obviously, we will discuss the breast aspect and the silicone, but that can't be the only thing. What was the thing?

LAURER: I can tell you that nobody has ever come up to me and asked me where I got my breasts, but they do come up to me and ask me how long it took for me to get my physique and how hard I worked, and how they can get arms like that, and there are a lot of women out there who want to feel strength, and there are women, beautiful women of all shapes and sizes, and colors, not the stereotypical, what when think is beautiful in our society.

KING: Do you think you might represent the emerging woman?

LAURER: I think I do. I think I am the emerging woman. Maybe not the emerging woman, but an emerging woman that has had an opportunity to go out and strut her stuff.

KING: Our guest is Joanie Laurer. She formerly was the character Chyna for the World Wrestling Foundation and apparently you are going to be seeing a lot more of her including a deal just signed again with "Playboy." They are not stupid. Don't forget, it is time to log onto my "King's Quiz" at And we will be right back.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't like Ivory's chances here. Look at Chyna, standing six feet tall. Gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The end is near for Ivory.


KING: Joanie Laurer, formerly known as Chyna, taking on the women. Was it fake?

LAURER: Oh, absolutely.

KING: The whole thing rehearsed.

LAURER: It is athletic theater, Larry, but I can tell you that one of the reasons why I was able to do what I did was because athletically I can handle myself.

KING: And I mean, you still had to be an athlete, right?

LAURER: Absolutely.

KING: You can get hurt.

LAURER: Of course, it is the most, we are stunt people. And I did that 300 days out of the year, and lucky for me the guys liked me that I worked with.

KING: True that you had a tough childhood? You were raped at the University of Tampa?

LAURER: Yes, you know.

KING: How did you get over that?

LAURER: I think that the book, "If They Only Knew," I think really there are so many celebrities out there and they write these autobiographies, and it is really a mask. They never allow people to really see them. And I think that by writing this book I talked about a series of events that happened in my life. Where I felt really, for many, many years, I constantly I let people do that to me.

KING: You blame yourself for your...

LAURER: I do, but I also -- I also know that that is the reason why I like myself now, and that I'm happy person, and I think all of those -- all those series of events, have led up to being a very strong woman out there. In the public eye and somebody that people can really relate to.

KING: You also had bulimia problems?

LAURER: Yes, I did which is really funny because if you look at me now you see a very strong, fit woman, but it has always been a love-hate relationship with my body.

KING: Do your parents approve of this?

LAURER: I am not even in contact with my parents. I have a sister who is my heart and soul, and you know, finally in my life for the first time a real good team around me.

KING: You had a rough time with your mother and father?

LAURER: Very much so, yes. Very dysfunctional, still dysfunctional, and like a bad marriage, I think that I have moved on from that, and...

KING: They are not proud you.

LAURER: I wouldn't even know, Larry. I would hope so.

KING: You did implants, right?


KING: And one of them burst one night during a match?

LAURER: One did.

KING: What was that like? That had to be a riot.

LAURER: It was very embarrassing. I was on 17 day tour, and one of the things that I think that people don't realize is that my unique niche that I held there, I had to go out I had to be this aggressive athlete. I had to look tough, and try and look pretty, and have makeup and hair and a little cleavage at the same time. And I say in the book that I just always had to make sure I landed boob up.

KING: This time you landed boob down?

LAURER: Yes, I did. But we are very physical. We are athletes, and -- accidents happen.

KING: Do you react to the question about steroids, have you every taken steroids?

LAURER: Absolutely not.

KING: You did this without help?

LAURER: Blood, sweat, and tears, Larry.

KING: And you wanted to be -- not manly, I don't want to say "manly," but tough, rough looking?

LAURER: No. And I don't think I'm rough looking at all. I think I am a lady with muscle. I think I display an enormous amount of femininity.

KING: Yeah, I'm not saying that, but the look is one of -- look is one of...

LAURER: The look is strength and I think to me, what is...

KING: Strength is a male word.

LAURER: Strength is a male word because I think that women are afraid to show strength because they get chastised for it, but I can tell you that there are so many women out there who have stood behind me and they love it. They want to be strong and feel that.

KING: Kansas City, Missouri, by the way, she will be on the front cover of the January "Playboy." She was on the fronts cover of "Playboy" in November 2000. That is a 13 month turn-around. Go ahead, Kansas City.

CALLER: Hi, Larry.


LAURER: My name is Mary. Hi, Chyna. I'm your biggest fan and I just want to ask, are you ever going to come back to WWF? Are you intending, and if you don't, where will be your next match?

KING: How old are you?

CALLER: I am 12 years old.

KING: Twelve-year-old fan. Are you going to come back to wrestling ever?

LAURER: I would say never say never. I'm an actress, I'm a model, and I am a wrestler. Those are my roots and I loved wrestling, and when the opportunity presents itself, hopefully for, you know, one time shot maybe a Wrestlemania, or another promotion that pops up, absolutely.

KING: Joanie Laurer is not Chyna?

LAURER: Absolutely not. I think that that was one of my biggest, where we butted heads a lot, because like any other soap opera actress or anybody else that is out there in public eye, there is so much honor in Chyna, and I love playing the character, but I'm not willing to live it 24 hours a day. And I am Joanie. I'm -- you know, Vince McMahon put me up to bat and I hit the ball. And that is Joanie Laurer.

KING: Do you like him for that at least?

LAURER: I will be forever indebted to Vince for giving me an opportunity.

KING: We will be right back with some more moments with Joanie Laurer. It will not be her only visit to this program and then we will meet LeVar Burton, famed actor, literacy activist, donated a kidney to his mother. His mother will be with him. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was talking with Eddie (UNINTELLIGIBLE) back in the locker room and -- ooh -- the telephone rang and he said it was -- out there -- her autobiography is going to be out next month...




LAURER: These cuffs are too tight, hurting my hands.

Come on, I'm not asking you to take them off. Just loosen them a bit.


I like this! Miserable like this!





KING: Joanie Laurer in "Pacific Blue." You like doing that? You like acting?

LAURER: Oh, it's so fun.

KING: Well, you've been acting. You're a wrestler.

LAURER: I have been acting, yes. Absolutely.

KING: Santa Rosa, California, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. Hi, Joanie.

LAURER: Hi, there.

CALLER: I'm saddened to hear that you're leaving the WWF, but I've seen you on "Third Rock" and "Mad TV," and I was kind of wondering if you were thinking about becoming a sitcom star, or possibly, like a if a network has come to you and asked you if you wanted to do a sitcom?

LAURER: Well, I actually have been in discussions with NBC and Fox. I'm doing a couple moves of the week coming up, and I think the idea for me, I love comedy. But I also think that we could play off of my physicalitiy and give all of the fans who have been watching me six years, you know, just a different format of watching what they love to see. So the big goal for me was to take one promotion, and now that I don't have that promotion behind me, get another promotion behind me that will allow me to do that.

KING: Is there any difference in wrestling men and women?

LAURER: Very much so. The difference was is that most of the men are extremely experienced and I learned from them every day. And not only did they...

KING: Did they let men beat you?

LAURER: Sure, all the time. But they also let...


LAURER: Absolutely, but I think the most important thing that people never knew behind the scenes was that a bunch of those guys, who never wanted me there are afraid of their egos on television at first, then became my biggest allies. And it's really, you know, those guys that made me and helped me every day. And they are my most precious friends and family.

KING: Are you going with anyone? You have a boyfriend?

LAURER: I am now, currently single, but I can tell you...

KING: Were you married?

LAURER: No, I wasn't married.

KING: So you've always been single.

LAURER: Well, no, I was dating one of the wrestlers.

KING: Dating, I see. But single, I mean single versus married. You're single.

LAURER: Married by all other accounts, besides the ring.

KING: You're not involved with anyone now.


KING: Do you miss that?

LAURER: No, because I'm really having -- I'm not at a shortage of dates right now, and I'm actually having fun getting wined and dined, Larry.

KING: Bloomsbury, New Jersey, hello.

CALLER: Hello, hi, Joanie. I was wondering, my question actually is, in future if you were ever planning on having children, if you were to have a daughter -- I'm very much into weight-lifting, you're an inspiration for me, and I was wondering if you would push them to do it, or if you would be OK with that?

LAURER: Thank you, first of all. I think that I would encourage my daughter to be an individual and no matter whether she chose to lift weights, I would just hope that she wouldn't try and be as thin as she could possibly be and -- so much of this is body perception and body image, and I think we really need to be happy with ourselves. Be fit and healthy and accept who we are. That's really the bottom line.

KING: Is it true you wanted to be in the Secret Service once?

LAURER: Yes. I studied foreign language in school, Spanish literature degree, and I hoped to -- did internships with Organization of American States, USAID. And I was really heading towards government work. I just happened to land in the wrestling ring.

KING: Boy, what an agent you'd have been, huh? Who's that one up there?

LAURER: Maybe I could play on the show now, on a show.

KING: Thank you so much. We'll have you back.

LAURER: Thank you, Larry. Thank you.

KING: Thank you. Joanie Laurer, formerly known as Chyna. And don't get rough with her!

When we come back, LeVar Burton, remember him? Brilliant as Kunta Kinte in "Roots," and on "Star Trek: the Next Generation," as well. Bigger story, even. He donated a kidney to his mother. He will be here with his mother, next. Don't go away.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: James. Your name is Toby. You're going to learn to say your name. Let me hear you say it. What's your name?

LEVAR BURTON, ACTOR: Kunta. Kunta Kinte.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Have a limited time left, but I want to move right to this because it's the first time they've appeared together to discuss it.

The brilliant actor, LeVar Burton. You remember him, of course, as Kunta Kinte in "Roots" and, of course, in "Star Trek." He donated a kidney to his mother just this past May. His mother is with him, Erma Christian. She received that kidney. She was diagnosed with diabetes back in 1971, became an insulin diabetic in '82. Doctors tell her that renal failure is imminent. Kidneys begin to fail, foregoes dialysis.

How did this come about that you would give her a kidney?

BURTON: Well, in Ma's case, you know, in the category that she is with the medical challenges she's dealing with, the real truth is that she wasn't a great candidate for getting an organ from the list.

KING: She was on the list.

BURTON: But not likely to receive one, you know, from the list.

KING: Because of age and...

BURTON: And other medical conditions. So a living related donor was really the best option for her. And, so we...

KING: How did he tell you he was going to do this?

ERMA CHRISTIAN, GOT KIDNEY FROM SON LEVAR: Well, when I finally got the courage to tell them that a transplant had been suggested, he just said, OK, and I'm going to donate the kidney.

KING: No question.

CHRISTIAN: No question, no hesitation. No opportunity for anybody else to step forward.

KING: Did that surprise you?


KING: You know your son.

CHRISTIAN: But it did concern me.

KING: Because?

CHRISTIAN: Because he is young enough that I was concerned about his health and, you know, his ability to take care of his family, and what happens if he needed a kidney?

KING: What kind of testing do they put you through before you can be a donor?

BURTON: A whole battery of stuff. They had to determine that I wasn't crazy in wanting to do this. I also wanted to -- I wanted to put my body through that glucose tolerance test to make sure that I didn't have -- my body wasn't predisposed to the diabetic condition, and all sorts of tests. But the most important ones were the tissue typing and the blood typing, to determine how good a match I was. And once those came back, you know, you are great match, then, you know, everything was gravy.

KING: Now, what happens first? Who -- give me procedure.

BURTON: The rundown?

KING: Yes.

BURTON: We went in.

KING: You have two kidneys. You go in together.

BURTON: We go in together. They actually do the harvest first, so they took my left kidney. While they were doing that, and they chilled the organ down. Then they brought Ma's body temperature down to match the organ coming in. And then did the implantation. It all took about four hours, both procedures.

KING: How far apart were you? Erma, were you in a completely different part of the hospital, or near each other?

CHRISTIAN: No, we were near each other.

BURTON: Across the hallway.

KING: And you're both out during this, right?



KING: Of course. You wake up. What do they tell you?

CHRISTIAN: When I woke up they told me it was all over, and that they had successfully implanted the kidney.

BURTON: And that it was making urine right away, which was a good sign.


KING: And it functioned right away?

CHRISTIAN: Yes, it did.

KING: You've had no problems since May?


KING: What difference did you notice in you?

BURTON: Me? This was a remarkable experience for our entire family. We really put the word out and successfully sort of weaved a web of prayer energy that was just remarkable.

KING: Oh, you did involve prayer.


BURTON: Without question.

CHRISTIAN: Very much so.

KING: Have you felt different physically, with one kidney instead of two?

BURTON: Physically, I went to see my doctor a couple weeks ago, and he reported to me that I'm healthier today than at any other time I have been a patient in his practice.

KING: Phew. Do you fear diabetes?

BURTON: Not at all.

KING: Do you have any different feeling having one kidney? Is it different when you urinate...

BURTON: No. Not at all. No difference at all.

KING: If this had happened in your sleep, you wouldn't have known lost a kidney.

BURTON: Not at all. It's one of those redundant systems in the body. We have two, but we can function absolutely perfectly with one.

KING: So you would recommend to a viewer faced with this: do it.

BURTON: One of the reasons why we are here today. We really want to get the word out that there is a real serious need in this country for people to donate organs. Sign those cards. Talk about this decision with your family. 75,000 Americans are currently on donor lists. 18 die every day waiting.

KING: I'm a donor. I'm listed on my plate, on my license. You haven't come forward before to discuss it.


KING: I'm glad you did here, because you're going to help a lot of people.

CHRISTIAN: I hope so.

KING: And you can add a lot of years. Who paid for this?

BURTON: Insurance.

CHRISTIAN: Medicare, and my insurance.

KING: So you never had HMO problems or anything covering this.

CHRISTIAN: Not a problem.

BURTON: Her doctors are pretty good. They were really good advocates. They made sure that she got into the transplant program she wanted to, at Sutter Memorial in Sacramento.

KING: Did you have any second thoughts?

BURTON: Absolutely.

KING: Like the night before.

BURTON: You know, once I had made the decision to do this, then it was a matter of living up to that decision. And I didn't make that decision in a vacuum. I have a family, my wife. I have a seven-year- old, a 21-year-old.

KING: They're all here, right?

BURTON: My family is here with me. It was a family decision.

KING: Are there other children?

CHRISTIAN: Two daughters.

KING: Could they have donated, too?

CHRISTIAN: One was a candidate -- was a candidate for donating, the other was not.

KING: But you felt the brother has to -- this is the brotherly thing to do?

BURTON: I am clearly the healthiest of the siblings, you know, and if I didn't -- if I didn't pass muster, then we would have gone to plan B.

KING: Were you scared?

CHRISTIAN: At first, but as LeVar said, there was a prayer network, and by the time I was ready to go into surgery, I felt so very protected and very secure.

KING: How close was she to dying?

BURTON: She was really sick. She was really toxic.

CHRISTIAN: I was very sick.

BURTON: And we had really become accustomed to her being in this sort of toxic condition.

KING: Kind of yellow.

BURTON: Absolutely. KING: We'll be back with some more moments with LeVar Burton and Erma Christian. What a story. Don't go away.


KING: You can now log on to my web site. It's for the answer to "King's Quiz." Don't forget, tomorrow night another exclusive: the entire staff of Congressman Gary Condit will be here, Mike Dayton and the staff. Tomorrow night on this program.

KING: Did your wife object, LeVar?

BURTON: No, not for a moment.

KING: Supported immediately.

BURTON: Without question. 199 percent.

KING: You live in Sacramento, am I right?


KING: The surgery was done at Sutter Memorial Hospital.

CHRISTIAN: Sutter Memorial Hospital.

KING: They did a good job.

CHRISTIAN: They did a wonderful job.

KING: Originally you had insurance turndowns, right?

CHRISTIAN: Not exactly a turndown, but they wanted to refer me to a couple of other programs that I was not willing to go into.

BURTON: She had identified Sutter as the best, and that's what she wanted to do.

KING: But you live in L.A, where two of the great hospitals -- three, four of the great hospitals...

BURTON: If I were driving this boat we would have done this at Cedars, but it wasn't about me, you know, it was about her. So we had to do this with her doctors.

KING: Did you ever say, "Sacramento, I'm not so sure...

BURTON: I was a little concerned, but in meeting the doctors and going up there, these people are serious pros. The transplant team, Dr. Ward, Dr. Brownfield, they were awesome.

CHRISTIAN: And their aftercare is awesome.

KING: Of course, you have to take anti-rejections. How long do you take that medication?

CHRISTIAN: The rest of my life.

KING: The rest of your life, because your body doesn't want to accept an enemy, which it sees as the new kidney, right? It doesn't recognize this kidney so it goes to fight it and you have to take the rejection medicine.


KING: Do you have any side effects?

CHRISTIAN: Some, yes.

KING: And not serious enough to...

CHRISTIAN: Not serious enough to make me regret...

BURTON: Well, considering the alternative.

KING: Well, yeah. Would you say now to Erma, you're leading a normal life?


KING: After not leading a normal life for how long? How long did you have real problems?

CHRISTIAN: Well, for about two years, I was in kidney failure.

KING: Didn't do dialysis, though.

CHRISTIAN: At the end, I finally had to do dialysis.

KING: Is that painful, or...

CHRISTIAN: It's not painful, but it is very confining, and...

BURTON: Tedious.

CHRISTIAN: Tedious. It is not a way I would like to live.

KING: What does this make you feel like, LeVar? I mean, heroic might be a word. But it's your mom.

BURTON: It's my mom. I mean, there is -- there was no other choice to make. It's my mom. And, you know, I think most people out there would do the same thing, given the same -- faced with the same choice to make.

KING: And it started with diabetes.


KING: Was that the original cause of all this.

CHRISTIAN: Diabetes and high blood pressure.

KING: Have your children been checked out?

BURTON: Not yet.

KING: Too young.

BURTON: We are monitoring it. And like I said, I wanted to be certain that I didn't have that predisposition. And so far, so good.

KING: I salute you both. Erma, congratulations. Long life.

CHRISTIAN: Thank you.

KING: LeVar, what can I say? LeVar Burton, the actor, literacy activist. Lots more to talk about in that area as well. And his mother, Erma Christian, the recipient of one of his kidneys. And they are both here, tonight.

Tomorrow night, the -- Mike Dayton and the staff of Congressman Gary Condit. Stay tuned now for CNN tonight. For all of our guests this evening, I'm Larry King in Los Angeles. Thanks for joining us. Good health.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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