‘Wrestling With Death’: Running a funeral home teaches family of wrestlers to embrace life

January 12, 2015

By: George Dickie

Depending on which way you look at it, the Latham family of Osceola, Ark., are either morticians with an unlikely sideline or wrestlers with an unusual day job.

Either way, they’re the subjects of the unscripted WGN America series “Wrestling With Death,” premiering Tuesday (Jan. 13).

Their primary concern, Wilson Funeral Home, serves the residents of this burg of 7,700 in the northeast corner of the state, and as family patriarch Lafonce “Big Daddy” Latham notes in the premiere episode, it’s the largest mortuary service in town and “anybody who’s had a death in the family have come through these doors.”

As an escape from the morbidity they deal with on a daily basis, they perform in and run The Mid-Southern Championship Wrestling League. And as is also noted in the opener, sometimes their fans become customers.

“When you come from a small town and a small community, everybody really knows everybody,” executive producer David George explains to Zap2it. “You grow up with all of these people, they know you by your first names, and you live and you die with these people.

And that really is the most intriguing thing about this series, is that in this small-town community everybody that comes through the doors of the funeral home, they’re known by Lafonce and his family; the Lathams know most of these people. So there’s a real personal connection to a lot of these funerals that they have to prepare.

“And in a way, I think that that kind of carries through as to why they do the wrestling,” he continues. “One of the things that I thought was interesting was that this family understands death better than anybody, but I also think they understand life because of it. And wrestling, to me, is the ultimate entertainment because you’re doing things purely to get a rise out of the crowd, to feel that life. And so if you think of the polar opposite of what they do by day, I think they do it because they’re around death so much.

“I think they understand that life is to be celebrated,” George concludes, “and you should be having fun and you should be entertaining and living it to its fullest. And I think running a funeral home teaches you that pretty quickly.”

Leftfield Pictures (An ITV America Company)