Leonardo DiCaprio has shared a moving tribute to the ‘endearing personality and incredible talent’ of his What’s Eating Gilbert Grape co-star Darlene Cates, who passed away in her sleep on the 26th of March, aged 69.
The Oscar-winning actor appeared alongside Cates as her son in the acclaimed 1993 movie about a troubled but tight-knit Iowa family and has now sent out his love for the actress who he considers his ‘acting mother’.
“I’ll always remember you as the best acting mamma I ever had. You triumphed in your role. 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,” Leo wrote.
Darlene’s daughter Sheri announced her mother’s death in a Facebook post saying ‘we take comfort in knowing that she is no longer in pain and is in the arms of our Heavenly Father’.
Cates led a lifelong struggle with obesity which began when her parents split up during her early teens. She was cast in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – her first ever acting experience – after being spotted by the film’s screenwriter, Peter Hedges, while appearing on an episode of the Sally Jessy Raphael talk show titled ‘Too Heavy to Leave Their House’, where she discussed her struggles with her weight.
Although she did not have any acting experience, her role received universal acclaim, including co-stars Johnny Depp and DiCaprio.
Speaking about the experience, Cates once said that playing a mother came very easily to her and she “did not have to delve very deep to find Mom in there.”
Her other acting endeavors included appearances in the television series Picket Fences and Touched by an Angel. She is survived by one daughter, two sons and four grandchildren.