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Darlene Cates, the actress best known for her role as Bonnie Grape in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, died Sunday morning, her daughter Sheri Cates Morgan announced on Facebook. She was 69.
“It is with a bitter-sweet heart that we share that our precious wife, mother, and Gaga, Darlene Guthrie Cates, was called Home, somewhat unexpectedly, peacefully in her sleep Sunday morning, March 26th,” wrote Morgan in a post along with two photos of Cates. “We take comfort in knowing that she is no longer in pain and is in the arms of our Heavenly Father, breaking away only to dance with our Savior, Jesus.”
She added, “Dancing was something she talked about loving to do ‘back in the day’!)”
Cates played the housebound, morbidly obese mother to Johnny Depp’s Gilbert Grape and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Arnie Grape in the 1993 film. DiCaprio earned a best supporting actor Oscar nomination, at age 19, for his role as the developmentally disabled teen.
“I’m not really the best in expressing my words in writing but you are the most special person I have ever [met],” DiCaprio wrote Cates after the film. “I’ll always remember you as the best acting mamma I ever had. You triumphed in your role.”
On Tuesday, DiCaprio paid tribute to his movie mom on Facebook: “Darlene was the best acting mom I ever had the privilege of working alongside. Her endearing personality and incredible talent will live on in the memories of those who knew her, and those who loved her work. My thoughts and prayers are with her family during this difficult time.”
Cates had been bedridden and weighed 500 pounds when she was discovered and cast in the role as the Grape matriarch.
Peter Hedges, who wrote the book of the same name that evolved into the screenplay, saw Cates on a 1992 episode of Sally Jessy Raphael, titled “Too Heavy to Leave the House.” On the show, Texas-native Cates spoke about her obesity and a pelvic infection that caused her to gain nearly 150 pounds.
After Gilbert Grape, Cates appeared on TV in 1992’s Picket Fences, 1994’s Touched by an Angel and in the made-for-TV movie Wolf Girl in 2001.
In 2012, Cates had lost nearly 250 pounds and spoke to The Dallas Morning News about being optimistic about acting again. She had been housebound at the time and was recovering from a series of surgeries that had kept her in the hospital for nearly a year.
“I can always tell when [Gilbert Grape has] been on TV,” she said, “because there’ll be a rush of ‘friend’ requests.”
Cates is survived by husband Robert Cates and children Sheri, Mark and Chris. Celebration arrangements are pending.
It is with a bitter-sweet heart that we share that our precious wife, mother, and Gaga, Darlene Guthrie Cates, was…
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