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DiCaprio's obese mom in 'Gilbert Grape' loses 244 pounds

Aug. 9, 2012 at 3:20 PM ET

Paramount Pictures /
Johnny Depp and Darlene Cates in 1993's "What's Eating Gilbert Grape."

Everyone remembers when 19-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio turned in a breakout performance in 1993's “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” But also memorable was the emotionally tormented, seriously depressed and extremely obese mother of DiCaprio and Johnny Depp’s characters, played by Darlene Cates, whose gripping performance was fueled by the struggles in her own life.

In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, the formerly 575-pound actress reveals she has dropped 244 pounds. Four surgeries and three “near-death experiences” kept her in the hospital for 11 months, and while her health issues are tough, the silver lining lies in the fact that this sudden weight loss has inspired the Forney, Texas, native to lose even more weight, in a safe manner.

Cates is shooting to lose another 100 pounds, which would drop her down to 221 pounds. She can also see herself taking up acting again. The 64-year-old particularly cherishes a letter that a young DiCaprio penned for her upon the film’s wrap.

“I’ll always remember you as the best acting momma I’ve ever had,” he wrote in a note shown by Dallas Morning News. “You triumphed in your role.”

This letter and the “triumph” she felt after shooting the successful “Gilbert Grape” caused her to realize her own self-worth.

She realized “how God had used me to touch other people and give them courage by what I did,” Cates told the paper. “And that gave them courage to put themselves out there more.”

In physical therapy classes and no longer diabetic, Cates still has a ways to go to get to a healthy weight. Looking around her bedroom, she told the Dallas Morning News, “I have looked at these things about as long as I can look at them, and I'm ready to blow this joint.”

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