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Darlene Cates (1947 - 2017)

The Dallas Morning News via AP / Michael Ainsworth

Darlene Cates (1947 - 2017)

Darlene Cates, an actress well-known for her role as the housebound matriarch alongside Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1993 movie "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," died Sunday, March 26, 2017, in Forney, Texas. She was 69.

Cates won the role after appearing on the "Sally Jessy Raphael" show in January 1992 to discuss her depression and struggles as a 500-pound-plus person in an episode titled "Too Heavy To Leave the House." Peter Hedges, whose book "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" was adapted for the film, had seen the episode and brought the video of Cates to the film's director, Lasse Hallstrom. To Hedges, Cates was exactly how he had imagined the homebound mother character in his book.


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Cates related how she got the call to play the role in an interview with the Los Angeles Times to promote the movie.

"I couldn't believe it when the phone rang and it was Gail Levin and she said, 'I'm a casting director and would you like to do a movie?'

"I didn't say anything for a long time - so long, as a matter of fact, that she began to think I wasn't interested at all, which I set her straight real quick."

Cates was born Rita Darlene Guthrie Dec. 13, 1947, in Borger, Texas. Her other credits include TV episodes on "Picket Fences" and "Touched by an Angel," and the TV movie "Wolf Girl."

By 2012, Cates had shed 240 pounds and was looking to resume her acting career.

After appearing on "Sally Jessy Raphael," she told The Dallas Morning News in 2012, people recognized her on the street.

“I didn’t know if … (people) were staring at me because I’m fat or because they recognize me,” she told the paper. “And all of a sudden … I am free. It doesn’t matter anymore.

“People can be cruel, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it home, wrap yourself up in it and wear it.”

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