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Darlene Cates Dead: ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ Actress Dies at 69

Darlene Cates, best known for playing the housebound mother Bonnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, died in her sleep on Sunday, March 26. She was 69. 

Johnny Depp and Darlene Cates in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

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Cates’ daughter, Sheri Cates Morgan, announced the sad news in a Facebook post on Monday. “It is with a bitter-sweet heart that our precious wife, mother and Gaga, Darlene Guthrie Cates, was called Home, somewhat unexpectedly, peacefully in her sleep Sunday morning, March 26th,” she wrote. “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. (Dancing was something she talked about loving to do ‘back in the day’!) For those who have already sent your love, texts and prayers, thank you.”

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Darlene Cates and Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

The actress played Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio’s morbidly obese mother in the famous 1993 film. Gilbert Grape author and screenwriter Peter Hedges reportedly cast Cates for the role after seeing an old 1992 episode of Sally Jessy Raphael’s talk show called “Too Heavy to Leave Their House.” In the episode, Cates, who weighed more than 500 pounds, discussed how obesity impacted her life and how a pelvic infection caused her to gain nearly 150 pounds. 

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She went to have small parts in the TV series Picket Fences and Touched by an Angel. She also appeared in the TV movie Wolf Girl, and recently appeared in a movie Billboard, which is still in post-production. She is survived by her husband, Bob, her daughter, Sheri, her sons, Mark and Chris, and several grandchildren. 

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