Darlene Cates, pictured at her home in Forney on Friday, July 20, 2012 was the mom in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape", (1993).

Darlene Cates, pictured at her home in Forney on Friday, July 20, 2012 was the mom in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape", (1993).

Michael Ainsworth/Staff Photographer

Darlene Cates, a Forney resident who played the overweight mother in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, died in her sleep, the family announced Tuesday on a Facebook post

Sherie Cates Morgan confirmed that her mother died after TMZ earlier reported it.

Cates, 69, gained recognition in 1993 with her role as Bonnie Grape, the obese, dysfunctional mother to characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.  The movie starred Depp as a grocery store clerk who must care for his mother and his mentally challenged brother, Arnie.

The movie was set in Iowa, but filmed in Austin and Pflugerville. There was no mistaking Cates' Texas drawl.

In 2012, she talked with The Dallas Morning News after losing more than 40 percent of her top weight — going from 575 pounds to 331. 

In 1992, Cates appeared in an episode of the Sally Jessy Raphael Show titled Too Heavy to Leave the House. Accompanied by Sherie Cates Morgan, Cates disclosed that she weighed more than 500 pounds at the time. On the show she spoke of her reclusive behavior. 

Afterward, she told The News that she felt liberated. 

"I didn't know if ... [people] were staring at me because I'm fat or because they recognize me," she said. "And all of a sudden ... I am free. It doesn't matter anymore. 

"People can be cruel, but that doesn't mean you have to take it home, wrap yourself up in it and wear it." 

Author and screenwriter Peter Hedges offered Cates the movie role after the show.  In 1993, director Lasse Hallstrom told The Los Angeles Times that the role was an immediate draw to her.

 "There was nothing stereotyped in the real Darlene, because she was so sweet, she had such a wonderful self-irony and such a wonderful sense of humor -- and you could tell from that brief interview on Sally Jessy Raphael.

"She was this wonderful personality in the disguise of her own body." 

DiCaprio, who earned his first Oscar nomination for playing Arnie, also offered his appreciation in a note to Cates: "I'll always remember you as the best acting mama I've ever had. You triumphed in your role."

According to the Internet Movie Database, Cates was born Dec. 13, 1947, in Borger and grew up in Dumas. 

Cates also has made appearances on television episodes of Picket Fences in 1992 and Touched by an Angel in 1994, according to IMDb. She also played the supporting role of Athena the Fat Lady in the made-for-TV film Wolf Girl in 2001.

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