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Dana Plato

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Dana Plato

Dana Plato
Plato as Kimberly on Diff'rent Strokes, in 1979
Born Dana Michelle Strain
(1964-11-07)November 7, 1964
Maywood, California, U.S.
Died May 8, 1999(1999-05-08) (aged 34)[1]
Moore, Oklahoma, U.S.
Cause of death Multidrug intoxication[2][3]
Resting place Cremated
Occupation Actress
Years active 1975–1999
Spouse(s) Lanny Lambert (m. 1984–90)
Children Tyler Lambert (1984–2010)

Dana Michelle Plato (November 7, 1964 – May 8, 1999) was an American actress, notable for playing the role of Kimberly Drummond on the U.S. television sitcom Diff'rent Strokes from 1978 to 1986.[4] After leaving the cast of Diff'rent Strokes, Plato attempted to establish herself as a working actress, with mixed success: she worked sporadically in made-for-TV movies and in independent films, and also did voice-over work. At age 34, after years of struggling with poverty and substance abuse, Plato died from an overdose of prescription drugs.[1][2]

Life and career

1964–77: Childhood and career beginnings

Plato was born Dana Michelle Strain on November 7, 1964 in Maywood, California, to Linda Strain, an unwed teenager who was already caring for an 18-month-old child. Seven months after her birth, in June 1965, she was adopted by Dean Plato, who owned a trucking company, and his wife Florine "Kay" Plato.[5] She was raised in the San Fernando Valley. When she was three, her adoptive parents divorced, and she lived with her mother.[6]

Plato began attending auditions with her mother when she was very young. From the age of seven, she began appearing in television commercials; she reportedly appeared in over 100 commercials for companies as diverse as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dole, and Atlantic Richfield. Plato later claimed that she was offered two highly sought-after movie roles: the role of possessed child Regan MacNeil in the 1973 film The Exorcist and the starring role in Louis Malle's 1978 film Pretty Baby. According to Plato, her mother vetoed both jobs, either fearing that Plato would be typecast, or subjected to unsavory subject matter.[7] However, Exorcist creator William Peter Blatty said he had "no such recollection" of Plato being offered the role. Plato made her film debut at the age of 12 in the 1977 horror film Return to Boggy Creek.[8] Other early credits included Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and California Suite (1978).

In addition to her acting career, Plato was also an accomplished figure skater; at one point she trained for a possible Olympic team spot. It was during this time that she made a brief appearance on TV's The Gong Show and was spotted by a producer who helped her secure what became her most famous acting role, that of Kimberly Drummond on Diff'rent Strokes. According to Plato, her mother decided that she should cut back on her skating in order to focus on the role.

1978–86: Diff'rent Strokes

Diff'rent Strokes debuted on NBC in 1978, becoming an immediate hit. The show features Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain), a wealthy white widower in New York City who adopts two black boys after the death of their parents. Plato played Kimberly, Drummond's teenage daughter, who at the start of the show becomes the sister of the two boys, Willis (Todd Bridges) and Arnold (Gary Coleman). Plato appeared on the show from 1978 until 1984 and again from 1985 to 1986; during her tenure the show appeared on two different networks.

Plato in 1983

During her years on Diff'rent Strokes, Plato struggled with drug and alcohol problems. She admitted to drinking and using cannabis and cocaine, and she suffered an overdose of diazepam when she was 14.[6] In December 1983, Plato moved in with her boyfriend, rock guitarist Lanny Lambert. The couple married on April 24, 1984, and their only child, Tyler Edward Lambert, was born on July 2, 1984.[9][10] During this time, Plato was let go from Diff'rent Strokes because the producers did not feel that a pregnancy would fit the show's wholesome image. Although rumors of drug use and other problems on the set surrounded her dismissal, the producers were adamant that Plato's pregnancy was the only reason her character was written out. She returned for several appearances during the show's seventh and eighth seasons, including an episode that aired on January 17, 1986 and was Plato's final appearance on the show, in which Kimberly suffers from the effects of bulimia.

1987–98: After Diff'rent Strokes

After leaving Diff'rent Strokes, Plato attempted to establish herself as a serious actress, but found it difficult to achieve success outside of her sitcom career. She had breast implants and modeled for a June 1989 Playboy pictorial, but her career remained in stagnation, and she started taking roles in such B-movies as Bikini Beach Race (1989) and Lethal Cowboy (1992). Plato separated from Lambert in January 1988, the same week her mother died of scleroderma. In desperation over these traumatic events, she signed over power of attorney to an accountant who disappeared with the majority of her money, leaving her with no more than $150,000. She claimed that the accountant was never found or prosecuted, despite an exhaustive search, and that he had also stolen more than $11 million of other people's money.[7]

During their March 1990 divorce, Plato lost custody of her son to Lambert and was given visitation rights.[6][10] She moved to Las Vegas, where she struggled with poverty and unemployment. At one point she worked at a dry-cleaning store, where customers reported being impressed by her lack of airs.[6] On February 28, 1991, she entered a video store, produced a gun, and demanded the money in the register. The clerk called 911 saying, "I've just been robbed by the girl who played Kimberly on Diff'rent Strokes." Approximately 15 minutes after the robbery, Plato returned to the scene and was immediately arrested. The gun was only a pellet gun and the robbery netted Plato $164.[11] Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton posted her $13,000 bail.[12] Plato was given five years' probation. She made headlines and became a subject of the national debate surrounding troubled child stars, particularly given the difficulties of her Diff'rent Strokes co-stars Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges. In January 1992, she was arrested again, this time for forging a prescription for Diazepam. She served 30 days in jail for violation of the terms of her probation and entered a drug rehabilitation program immediately thereafter.

In 1992, Plato was one of the first celebrities to star in a video game. The game, Night Trap, was not a great success, but is considered a pioneering title because it was the first game to use live actors, specifically a well-known personality.[13] It was one of the first video game titles to have mature content and attracted controversy due to its depiction of violence.[14] The controversy, along with that surrounding Mortal Kombat, eventually led to the creation of the ESRB.[15]

Toward the end of her career, Plato chose roles that could be considered erotic and softcore.[16] She appeared nude in Prime Suspect (1989) and Compelling Evidence (1995), and in the softcore erotic drama Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill...and Jill (1997), whose title was changed after filming in order to tie it to Plato's past. Following her appearance in the film, in 1998, Plato appeared in a cover story of the lesbian lifestyle magazine Girlfriends, in which she came out as a lesbian, although she later recanted.

She became engaged to Fred Potts a filmmaker and close friend of Johnny Whitaker, but the romance soon broke up and she returned to drugs.[6] Just before her death, she was engaged to her manager Robert Menchaca, with whom she lived in a motor home in Navarre, Florida.[12]

1999: Final interview and death

On May 7, 1999, the day before she died, Plato appeared on The Howard Stern Show. She spoke about her life, discussing her financial problems and her past run-ins with the law. She admitted to being a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, but claimed that she had been sober for more than ten years by that point, and was not using any drugs, with the exception of prescribed painkillers due to the recent extraction of her teeth. Many callers insulted her and questioned her sobriety, which provoked a defiant Plato, who offered to take a drug test on the air. Some callers, as well as host Howard Stern, came to Plato's defense.[7]

The next day, Plato and Menchaca were returning to California, the couple stopped at Menchaca's mother's home in Moore, Oklahoma, for a Mother's Day visit.[6] Plato went to lie down inside her Winnebago motor home parked outside the house, where she died of an overdose of the painkiller Lortab and the muscle-relaxant Soma. Her death was eventually ruled a suicide.[17] Her body was cremated.[18] Eleven years after Plato's death, on May 6, 2010, her son Tyler Lambert died at age 25 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.[19] Lambert had reportedly been experimenting with drugs and alcohol.[20] Johnny Whitaker, Plato's former manager and a family friend, said that Lambert always said he "wanted to be with Mom."[10]


Year Title Role Notes
1977 Exorcist II: The Heretic Sandra Phalor Uncredited
1977 Return to Boggy Creek Evie Jo
1978 California Suite Jenny Warren
1989 Prime Suspect Diana Masters
1992 Bikini Beach Race J.D.
1992 The Sounds of Silence
1995 Compelling Evidence Dana Fields
1995 Lethal Cowboy Elizabeth
1995 Millenium Day
1997 Tiger Andrea Baker
1997 Blade Boxer Rita Direct-to-video release
1997 Different Strokes Jill Martin
1998 Desperation Boulevard Dana Plato
1999 Silent Scream Emma Jones
2002 Pacino is Missing Prosecuting Attorney Plato's last film
Year Title Role Notes
1975 The Six Million Dollar Man Girl Episode: "The Bionic Woman"
1975 Beyond the Bermuda Triangle Wendy Television movie
Family Mary Beth Sanders
Episode: "Home Movie " (1976)
Episode: "Letting Go" (1980)
1978 What Really Happened to the Class of '65? Episode: "The Most Likely to Succeed"
1978–86 Diff'rent Strokes Kimberly Drummond Main cast: 140 episodes
1979 The Facts of Life Kimberly Drummond Episode: "Rough Housing"
CHiPs as Herself
Episode: "Roller Disco: Part 2" (1979)[a]
Episode: "Nightingale" (1980)
1981 A Step in Time Television movie
1982 Walt Disney World's 10th Anniversary Daughter Television special
1983 High School U.S.A. Cara Ames Television movie
1984 The Love Boat Patty Springer Episode: "Paying the Piper/Baby Sister/Help Wanted"
1985 Growing Pains Lisa Episode: "Mike's Madonna Story"

a Plato appeared in episode "Roller Disco: Part 2" (1979), as herself, but was uncredited.

Other media
Year Title Role Notes
1992 Night Trap Kelly Medd Video Game


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  7. ^ a b c Dana Plato's final interview with Howard Stern
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  12. ^ a b The Death of Dana Plato at Morbidly Hollywood
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External links

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