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‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ actress Darlene Cates, 69

Darlene Cates at her home in Forney, Texas,

Darlene Cates at her home in Forney, Texas, in 2004. Credit: AP FOR Newsday / David Pellerin

Darlene Cates, who played the housebound mother in the 1993 film “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” has died.

Cates died in her sleep Sunday morning at her home in Forney, Texas, according to her son-in-law, David Morgan. She was 69.

Cates was cast in the film as the morbidly obese mother of Johnny Depp, in the title role, and his younger brother, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. She had been spotted by the film’s screenwriter, Peter Hedges, while appearing on the “Sally Jessy Raphael” talk show, where she discussed her struggles with her weight.

The film, directed by Lasse Hallström, won acclaim for its sensitive portrayal of a troubled but loving family in a small Iowa town.

“I can do moms real well. I don’t have to delve very deep to find Mom in there,” she told the Dallas Morning News in an interview.

And, according to People magazine, DiCaprio agreed. The film earned the star his first Oscar nomination when he was 19 years old, and he later wrote Cates a note praising her acting.

“I’m not really the best in expressing my words in writing but you are the most special person I have ever,” he wrote. “I’ll always remember you as the best acting mamma I ever had. You triumphed in your role.”

Cates later appeared on episodes of the series “Picket Fences” and “Touched By an Angel.”


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