Darlene Cates, who played Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio’s mum in cult classic What’s Eating Gilbert Grape has sadly passed away aged 69.
The actresses’ family states she died peacefully in her sleep, with her daughter announcing her death on Facebook.
The actress – who was discovered by the movie’s screenwriter, Peter Hedges, after seeing her on an episode of the talk show Sally Jessy Raphael entitled Too Heavy to Leave Their House – played an obese mother who never quite got over her husband’s suicide in the movie.
Hedges said at the time that after watching Darlene openly discussing how a pelvic infection caused her to gain 150 pounds, he knew she’s be perfect for the role of the mostly housebound Bonnie Grape.
Despite the success of Gilbert – the film earned Leo his first Oscar nomination – Darlene only went on to appear in a handful of other roles including guest spots on Touched by an Angel and Picket Fences.
Speaking about her role in Gilbert, Darlene once said she dreamed about being ‘able to go to the mall… and sit there and not have anyone notice me’—and help encourage others who might be struggling with size-related insecurities ‘to put themselves out there more.’
And in a touching tribute to his on-screen mum, Leo is said to have written a note to the actress praising her work on the film, states People.
‘I’m not really the best in expressing my words in writing but you are the most special person I have ever [met]. I’ll always remember you as the best acting mamma I ever had. You triumphed in your role,’ he said at the time.
She leaves behind husband Robert Cates, a former US Marine and a daughter and two grown-up sons, as well as four grandchildren.
Darlene was said to have just finished filming a movie called Billboard with Eric Roberts at the time of her death.