'What's Eating Gilbert Grape' Star Darlene Cates Dies at 69

Johnny Depp had the title role in the movie, playing a grocery store clerk who worked with his siblings to take care of their housebound mother.

Darlene Cates, who went from a talk show guest to starring in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" with Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio, passed away in her sleep on Sunday, according to family members.

Screenwriter Peter Hedges offered Darlene the role after she appeared on talk show Sally Jessy Raphael, where she talked about her battles with obesity and a pelvic infection which caused her to gain nearly 150 pounds. On the show, Cates spoke candidly about her battle with obesity and the pelvic infection that caused her to gain almost 150 lbs.

"No one could've been more surprised than I was because I was just a fat housewife in Forney, Texas, of all places", Cates said of her casting. I'll always remember you as the best acting mamma I ever had.

"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. He later praised Cates' acting, cementing her critical acclaim. "You triumphed in your role".

Cates later appeared on episodes of the TV series "Picket Fences" and "Touched By an Angel". She is survived by Robert Cates, her husband of 54 years, and children Sheri Ann, Mark and Chris Cates.

  • Salvatore Jensen