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Mom From “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” Today

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Darlene Cates came onto the movie scene in an extreme and brave way, and it all happened due to a unique chain of events.

Cates, who has been morbidly obese for several years, had been home-bound for five years when she agreed to appear on “The Sally Jessy Raphael Show” in 1992, for an episode titled “Too Heavy To Leave The House”. The extreme level of bravery it took for her to go on national television and talk about her weight shook producers who were working on a film called “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, starring Johnny Depp and a young Leonardo DiCaprio. They knew they had to have her in the role of Bonnie, a woman who was so depressed after her husband’s suicide that she couldn’t leave the house. She made the role her own, identifying with the character in a way no one else could. Plus, she says, it was one thing she knew she could pull off.

“I can do moms real well,” Cates said. “I don’t have to delve very deep to find Mom in there.”

So well, in fact, that DiCaprio wrote her a letter when the film wrapped, telling her she was the best “acting mom” he’d ever had.

“I’m not really the best in expressing my words in writing but you are the most special person I have ever [met],” he wrote. “I’ll always remember you as the best acting mamma I ever had. You triumphed in your role.”

Cates has had a string of health problems recently but has managed to lose 250 pounds, and says she’d like to stay on that track in order to lose 100 more. As of now, she’s still bed-ridden but hopes to be able to walk again very soon. The 64-year old also wants to get back into acting. And while she’s open to any genre, she says, there has to be respect. She refuses to be the joke.

“People can be cruel, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it home, wrap yourself up in it and wear it,” she said. “I realized “how God had used me to touch other people and give them courage by what I did. And that gave them courage to put themselves out there more.”

Mom From “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” Today
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