Darlene Cates, the actress best known for her unforgettable performance in the 1993 indie classic What’s Eating Gilbert Grape has passed away.
She was 69 years old.
According to a statement from her family, Cates died peacefully in her sleep.
The cause of death is currently unknown.
Though she racked up several film and television credits between 1993 and 2001, Cates never set out to be an actress.
She was discovered by Gilbert Grape screenwriter Peter Hedges during an appearance on a 1985 episode of The Sally Jessie Raphael Show.
The episode, entitled “Too Heavy to Leave the House”, centered around Darlene and several other guests who were unable to perform the tasks of daily life due to severe obesity.
On the show, Darlene discussed her lifelong battle with obesity.
After it aired, she suffered pelvic infections that kept her bedridden for two years and caused her to gain an extra 149 pounds.
Darlene underwent a gastroplasty procedure in 1981, when she weighed just over 400 pounds.
But despite medical intervention, the weight she lost seemed to always come back, and she eventually topped out at nearly 550 pounds.
Cates served as an aspirational figure for people suffering with disabilities, as she lived a full life despite her constant health problems.
Darlene married US Marine Robert Cates in 1963.
The couple went on to have three children together.
Despite being bed-ridden throughout much of her life, Cates attained her high school degree via correspondence in 1992.
One year later, Hollywood unexpectedly came calling.
Her acclaimed work in Gilbert Grape – a surprise hit in which she co-starred with Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio – caught the attention of casting directors, and Cates became an in-demand character actress.
She appeared in such popular TV series as Touched By An Angel and Picket Fences.
The director of 2001’s Wolf Girl wanted to work with Cates so badly that he and his crew traveled from Romania to Texas to shoot scenes in her home.
Cates is survived by her kids and four grandchildren.
On social media, tributes have been pouring in for a woman who never let her setbacks get in the way of her dreams.