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Darlene Cates, actress who played mother in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," is dead at 69

NEW YORK -- Darlene Cates, best known for playing the mother of Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio in 1993’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” has died at 69. 

Cates died in her sleep Sunday morning at her home in Forney, Texas, according to her son-in-law, David Morgan. 

The actress made her debut in “Gilbert Grape” as the morbidly obese mother of Depp, in the title role, and his younger brother, played by DiCaprio. She had been spotted by the film’s screenwriter, Peter Hedges, while appearing on the “Sally Jessy Raphael” talk show, where she discussed her struggles with her weight.

DiCaprio paid tribute to Cates on Facebook and wrote, “Darlene was the best acting mom I ever had the privilege of working alongside. 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.” 

The film, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, won acclaim for its sensitive portrayal of a troubled but loving family in a small Iowa town.

Cates later appeared on episodes of the series “Picket Fences” and “Touched By an Angel.”

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