ByKarly Rayner, writer at
Movie Pilot's celebrity savant
Karly Rayner

Darlene Cates, the actor responsible for the much-loved role of the housebound mother in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, has died at the age of just 69. Her daughter announced the death with a Facebook post telling fans Cates had passed away "peacefully in her sleep" on Sunday morning.

The plus-sized actor landed her breakout role in What's Eating Gilbert Grape when she appeared on an episode of Sally Jessy Raphael entitled "Too Heavy To Leave Their House." Peter Hedges, the author and screenwriter behind Gilbert Grape, happened to catch the show by chance and knew instantly that Darlene was the perfect person to embody Gilbert's housebound mother.

Cates decided to take on the role to conquer her own insecurities and to inspire other people struggling with obesity to “to put themselves out there more.”

[Credit: Paramount Pictures]
[Credit: Paramount Pictures]

According to People magazine, Cates reportedly bonded especially well with the young Leonardo DiCaprio who recently wrote his on-screen mother a touching note after learning of her death:

Along with playing the part that arguably made Gilbert Grape, Cates also appeared on Picket Fences and Touched By An Angel during her career.

Darlene is survived by her husband of 54 years, three children and four grandchildren.

Relive Darlene's most iconic role in the video below:


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