Cates’ acting career ignited after she appeared on an episode of Sally Jessy Raphael (1983), titled “Too Heavy to Leave Their House”. Shortly after, author and screenwriter Peter Hedges proposed to her that she play Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio’s morbidly obese and housebound mother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)–Cates accepted. Her performance earned stellar reviews; Roger Ebert said about the actress, “Darlene Cates, making her movie debut, has an extraordinary presence on the screen. We see that she is fat but we see many other things, too, including the losses and disappointments in her life, and the ability she finds to take a grip and make a new start.” The actress went on to appear in a handful of film and television projects before succumbing to natural causes, she was 69. When the The Guardian released a statement on the actress’s death, Leonard DiCaprio paid tribute to the actress identifying her as “the best acting mom I ever had”.
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