Leonardo DiCaprio began his career at a young age, and his supporting role in What's Eating Gilbert Grape was one of his first movies. The film, released in 1993, was a critically-acclaimed small town drama, about a grocery-store clerk named Gilbert Grape who must stay in his small town because of responsibilities to his family. DiCaprio played Grape's younger brother who has a developmental disability, and at just 19, the role earned him an Oscar nomination. One of the film's most memorable performances came from Darlene Cates, who starred as the Grapes' homebound mother. Cates passed away on Sunday morning at the age of 69, according to a Facebook post from her daughter, Sheri Cates Morgan. In a moving Facebook post of his own, DiCaprio paid tribute to Cates and her acting legacy.
DiCaprio has long credited Cates as his favorite on-screen mother. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he wrote the actor a letter shortly after the film premiered to share his feelings. “I’m not really the best in expressing my words in writing but you are the most special person I have ever [met],” DiCaprio wrote to Cates. “I’ll always remember you as the best acting mamma I ever had. You triumphed in your role.”
On Tuesday, DiCaprio posted a brief but meaningful memorial to the star on his Facebook page:
While Cates' is perhaps most well known for her role in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, she also appeared in a few other roles later in her career. She was a guest star on the shows Touched By An Angel and Picket Fences, and had a small role in the 2001 film Wolf Girl.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a film that endures because of the performances, and it wouldn't be the same film without Cates' contribution. The movie, and Cates' role, were meaningful to many people, including co-star DiCaprio. Nobody will forget her work any time soon.