Actress Darlene Cates, who is best known for playing Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio's mother Bonnie Grape in the 1993 drama What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, passed away on Sunday at the age of 69. The actress' daughter Sherri Cates Morgan announced her mother's passing on Facebook yesterday, revealing that she died peacefully in her sleep. Here's what Sherri Cates Morgan had to say in a statement about her mother's death.
"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. 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. (Life Celebration arrangements are pending.)"
Darlene Cates was born December 13, 1947 in Borger, Texas, and grew up in Dumas, Texas. After her parents divorced when she was just 12 years old, she started overeating to deal with the divorce, which lead to obesity. In 1981, she underwent a gastroplasty operation, dropping from 410 pounds to 310, but she eventually gained the wait back and more, reaching 550 pounds. In 1985, the late actress appeared on the Sally Jesse Raphael talk show in an episode entitled "Too Heavy to Leave Their House," where she discussed her lifelong battle with obesity. Peter Hedges, who wrote both the novel What's Eating Gilbert Grape and the screenplay adaptation, discovered Darlene Cates while watching this episode, and offered her the role of Bonnie Grape, the obese mother of Johnny Depp's Gilbert Grape and Leonardo DiCaprio's Arnie Grape.
Darlene Cates would go on to appear in guest-starring spots on episodes of Picket Fences and Touched By an Angel, along with a small role in the 2001 TV movie Wolf Girl. After more than a decade away from acting, Darlene Cates played the title character in the 2014 short film Mother, and she also stars in the upcoming comedy Billboard, alongside Eric Roberts, Oakes Fegley and Heather Matarazzo. Just a year before What's Eating Gilbert Grape was released, she earned her high school diploma through correspondence courses in 1992, and emerged from her house for the first time after a five-year period of seclusion.
Her problems with obesity were also compounded by a thyroid problem along with slow metabolism, but she was still able to lose a significant amount of weight just a few years ago. In 2012, Darlene Cates lost 244 pounds, bringing her weight down from 575 pounds to 331 pounds. She is survived by her husband Bob Cates, a postal worker who she's been married to since 1963, and three children, Sherri, Mark and Chris. Darlene Cates' daughter indicated that there will be updates on her mother's life celebration on Facebook.