Darlene Cates, The Mom From ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,’ Has Died

For a multitude of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape fans, today is a very sad one indeed with the announcement that main character, Darlene Cates, who played the mother of Gilbert Grape has died aged 69.

Darlene Cates passed away in her sleep Sunday morning at her home in Forney, Texas, her son-in-law, David Morgan, released via a statement to The Associated Press.

Darlene’s only daughter, Sheri, also broke the news via her Facebook page.

“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 26,” Sheri wrote in her Facebook message.

“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”!)”

Sheri then followed up with a second message a day later, thanking her family and friends for their show of support during her difficult time.

“Your love and support have been absolutely overwhelming,” she said. “Our family is so grateful for your texts, posts, stories, memories, personal messages, and calls.”

'What's Eating Gilbert Grape stared Darlene Cates as Bonnie Grape
[Image by Paramount Pictures]

News.com.au reports that Darlene Cates was “was born in Borger, Texas and grew up in Dumas.” Her parents divorced when she was young and she then took solace in eating.

Darlene married Robert Cates, a U.S. Marine, on January 11, 1963, and they had three children, Sheri Ann, Mark, and Chris. She has four grandchildren.

In 1981 she underwent gastroplasty surgery and, for a time, lost weight. Eventually, pelvic infections caused by her obesity caused her to be bedridden for two years.

Cates suffered with obesity for most of her life and it was this struggle that led to her role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. After appearing on the talk show, Sally (previously called The Sally Jessy Raphael Show) in 1985 (in the episode titled “Too Heavy to Leave Their House”), to discuss how her obesity affected her life, screenwriter Peter Hedges offered her a role in the 1993 movie, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. The rest, as they say, is history. Cates starred alongside Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Bonnie Grape, the mother to Depp and DiCaprio’s characters, Gilbert and Arnie.

You can view Darlene’s interview on Sally, prior to her What’s Eating Gilbert Grape fame, below.

After the news of Darlene’s death broke, DiCaprio took to Facebook to express his condolences.

“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.”

After her success in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Darlene went on to star in television shows such as Picket Fences and Touched by an Angel. She appeared in the supporting role of Athena the Fat Lady in the made-for-television film, Wolf Girl (2001).

'What's Eating Gilbert Grape' movie poster staring Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Darlene Cates
[Image by Paramount Pictures]

While she didn’t appear in many movies beyond What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, fans can get a glimpse of Darlene Cates in the upcoming movie, Billboard, slated for release this year. Cates will play the role of Penny. You can view the synopsis for Billboard below.

“Times are tough, listener-ship is down and Casey needs to come up with a plan to save his radio station, WTYT 960, and fast! Casey’s grand plan is to host a billboard sitting contest, where four lucky contestants have the opportunity to win “nine-sixty thousand dollars and a mobile home”. All they have to do is be the last person to survive, living on a billboard.”

No cause of death or funeral arrangements have yet been released.

What was your favorite Darlene Cates scene from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Let us know by commenting below.

[Featured Image by Paramount Pictures]