Cates, 64, weighed 575 pounds when she filmed the movie and is now down to 331, according to the Morning News. But her road to recovery isn't over. Though she's managed to overcome diabetes and has started physical therapy, she's still unable to walk and has had four surgeries and three near-death experiences in recent years, the Morning News reports.
Still, Cates is optimistic about the future. Next January, she and her husband Bob will celebrate 50 years of marriage. She tells the newspaper she hopes to attend her grandson's confirmation in October with the aid of a wheelchair, and would love to get back into acting part-time. She also hopes to lose an additional 100 pounds. "I'm ready to blow this joint," she says of the bedroom where she spends the vast majority of her time.
Cates attracted the attention of the What's Eating Gilbert Grape casting directors in 1992, after she appeared on an episode of the Sally Jessy Raphael talk show called "Too Heavy to Leave the House," according to the Morning News.
She says she still gets notes from fans and plenty of friend requests on Facebook, particularly after Gilbert Grape's frequent airings on cable, and hopes her struggle will provide an inspiration for others. "God had used me to touch other people and give them courage by what I did," Cates says of the role, and the attention that came with it. "And that gave them courage to put themselves out there more."