Subject: ARCHIVE: May 8, 1999 ~Hard to believe it's nearly 20 years since the death of former child actress Dana Plato, who while vacationing w/her young family, she OD'd in the family RV, in front of her mother-in-law's home in Oklahoma. She was only 34. ...
American actress who was notable for having played the role of Kimberly Drummond on the U.S. television sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, from 1978 to 1986. 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 did voice-over work. At the age of 34, after years of struggling with poverty and substance abuse, Plato died from an overdose of prescription drugs.
Life and career;
1964–1977: 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. In June 1965, the seven month-old was adopted by Dean Plato, who owned a trucking company, and his wife Florine "Kay" Plato. Plato was raised in the San Fernando Valley. When she was three, her adoptive parents divorced, and she lived with her mother.
When she was very young, Plato began attending auditions with her mother and from age seven 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 made her film debut at age 13, in the horror film Return to Boggy Creek (1977). Other early credits included Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and California Suite (1978).
In addition to acting, Plato was 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, Kimberly Drummond on Diff'rent Strokes. According to Plato, her mother decided she should cut back on her skating in order to focus on the TV role.
1978–1986: 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 their parents' deaths. Plato played Kimberly, Drummond's teenage daughter, who at the start of the show becomes the adoptive 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. During her years on Diff'rent Strokes, Plato struggled with drug and alcohol problems. She admitted to drinking alcohol, and using cannabis and cocaine, and she suffered an overdose of diazepam when she was 14.
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. 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 six guest appearances during the show's seventh and eighth seasons. In the season 8 episode that aired on January 17, 1986—Plato's final appearance on the show—Kimberly suffers from the effects of bulimia.
1987–1998: 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 the accountant was never found nor prosecuted, despite an exhaustive search, and that he had also stolen more than $11 million of other people's money.
During her March 1990 divorce, Plato lost custody of her son to Lambert and was given visitation rights. 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.
On February 28, 1991, she entered a video store, produced a pellet gun, and demanded the money in the cash 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 robbery netted Plato $164. Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton posted her $13,000 bail, and Plato was given five years' probation. Plato 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 violating 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 (the majority of the game's video content was actually filmed in 1987 then shelved), but is considered a pioneering title because it was the first game to use live actors, specifically a well-known personality. It was one of the first video game titles to have mature content and attracted controversy due to its depiction of violence. The controversy, along with that surrounding Mortal Kombat, eventually led to the creation of the ESRB.
Toward the end of her career, Plato chose roles that could be considered erotic, softcore pornography. ...
...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 (1998), whose title was changed after filming in order to tie it to Plato's past. Following her appearance in the film, in the same year, 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 after Plato's manipulation of Potts, and she returned to drugs. Just before her death, she was engaged to her manager Robert Menchaca, with whom she lived in a motor home in Navarre, Florida.
...She spoke about her life, discussing her financial problems and past run-ins with the law. She admitted to being a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, but claimed she had been sober for more than 10 years by that point, and was not using any drugs, with the exception of prescribed painkillers due to the recent extraction of two molars. 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. Although she allowed a hair to be cut for the test, Stern later claimed she asked for it back after the interview.
The next day, Plato and Menchaca were returning to California and stopped at Menchaca's mother's home in Moore, Oklahoma, for a Mother's Day visit. 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. Her body was cremated.
2010: Son's death ...
...Almost exactly eleven years to the day after Plato's death, on May 6, 2010, her son Tyler Lambert died at the age of 25 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He had reportedly been experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Johnny Whitaker, Plato's former manager and a family friend, said that Lambert always said he "wanted to be with Mom."