Dana Plato

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Dana Plato
Dana Plato 1979.jpg
Plato as Kimberly on Diff'rent Strokes in 1979
Born Dana Michelle Strain
(1964-11-07)November 7, 1964[1]
Maywood, California, U.S.
Died May 8, 1999(1999-05-08) (aged 34)[2]
Moore, Oklahoma, U.S.
Cause of death
Multidrug intoxication[3][4]
Occupation Actress
Years active 1971–1999
Spouse(s) Lanny Lambert (m. 1984–90)
Children Tyler Lambert (1984–2010)

Dana Michelle Plato (November 7, 1964 – May 8, 1999)[1] was an American actress notable for playing the role of Kimberly Drummond on the U.S. television sitcom Diff'rent Strokes.[5] 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.[6]

At age 34, after years of struggling with poverty and substance abuse, Plato took a lethal overdose of the painkiller Lortab and the muscle-relaxant Soma.[3][7]


Plato was born Dana Michelle Strain on November 7, 1964, in Maywood, California, to Linda Strain, an unwed teenager. Strain, who was already caring for an 18-month old child, chose to give her second daughter up for adoption. Dean (August 16, 1926 – February 24, 1997), who owned a trucking company, and his wife Florine "Kay" Plato (December 27, 1938 – January 2, 1988) [8] adopted the child in June 1965 and raised her in the San Fernando Valley. When she was three, her adoptive parents divorced, and she lived with her mother.[9]

Career in television and film[edit]

Kay Plato began taking her daughter to auditions when she was very young. By the age of seven, Plato 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 would later claim that she was offered two highly sought-after movie roles: the part 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.[10] Exorcist producer/author/screenwriter William Peter Blatty was quoted in the book Former Child Stars: The Story of America's Least Wanted that he had "no such recollection" of Plato being offered the role.

Plato made her film debut at the age of 13 in the 1977 horror film Return to Boggy Creek.[11] Other credits included California Suite, High School U.S.A. and Exorcist II: The Heretic.

In addition to her acting talent, 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 would become 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 to focus on the role.

Diff'rent Strokes[edit]

Main article: Diff'rent Strokes

In 1978, Diff'rent Strokes debuted on NBC. The show featured Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain), a wealthy white widower in New York City who adopted two young black boys after the death of their parents. Plato played Kimberly, Drummond's teenage daughter, who at the start of the show became the sister of the two adopted boys, Willis (Todd Bridges) and Arnold (Gary Coleman). Kimberly was the oldest, Willis the middle child, and Arnold was the youngest. The show was an immediate hit.

Plato in 1983

Plato appeared on the show from 1978 until 1984 and again from 1985-1986; during her tenure the show appeared on two different networks. During the show's run she became pregnant by her boyfriend, musician Lanny Lambert. The producers of Diff'rent Strokes did not feel that a pregnancy would fit the show's wholesome image, so Plato was let go. Although rumors of drug use and other "problems on the set" swirled around her dismissal, the producers were adamant that the pregnancy was the only reason why her character was written out. Plato actually returned for several appearances during the show's final 1985-1986 season, which appeared on ABC, including an episode (Plato's final appearance in the series) in which Kimberly suffers from the effects of bulimia.

Career after Diff'rent Strokes[edit]

After leaving Diff'rent Strokes in 1986, Plato attempted to establish herself as a serious actress, but found it difficult to step out of the long shadow cast by her sitcom career. After her child was born, she had breast implants and appeared in a June 1989 Playboy pictorial, but her career remained in the doldrums. She started taking roles in such B-movies as Bikini Beach Race and Lethal Cowboy.

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 (Plato).[12] It was one of the first video game titles to have mature content and attracted controversy due to its depiction of violence.[13] The controversy, along with that surrounding Mortal Kombat, eventually led to the creation of the ESRB.[14]

Toward the end of her career, Plato chose roles that could be considered erotic and softcore.[15] She appeared partially nude in Prime Suspect (1988) and Compelling Evidence (1995), and in the softcore comedy "The Story of Jack and Jill... and Jill" (1997), originally known as Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill...and Jill. The title was changed after shooting in order to tie it to Plato's past. Plato subsequently would appear in only one more film.

Personal life[edit]

Plato began having drug and alcohol problems early in life. At age 14, she overdosed on Valium. She admitted to drinking and using marijuana and cocaine during her years on Diff'rent Strokes.[9]

In December 1983, Plato moved in with rock guitarist Lanny Lambert; the couple married on April 24, 1984. On January 2, 1988, Plato's adoptive mother, Kay Plato, died, aged 49, from scleroderma. The same week, Plato and Lambert separated. The couple divorced in March 1990, and Lambert was awarded custody of their only child, Tyler Edward (July 2, 1984[16] – May 6, 2010),[17] with Plato having visitation rights. During this time, Plato posed nude for Playboy.[9]

In 1991, Plato 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.[9] 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.[18] Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton posted her $13,000 bail.[19] 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 again arrested, 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.

Following her appearance in the erotic film, Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill ... and Jill, Plato appeared on the cover of the lesbian lifestyle magazine Girlfriends in 1998. She was interviewed by Diane Anderson-Minshall and came out as a lesbian, but later recanted.

In her interview with Howard Stern, Plato mentioned that the traumatic events of her mother's death and her husband leaving her took place during the course of only a week. In desperation, 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, despite an exhaustive search, and that he had also stolen more than $11 million of other people's money.[10] Just before her death, she and her fiancé, Robert Menchaca, were living in a caravan in Navarre, Florida.[19]

Final interview and death[edit]

On May 7, 1999, Plato appeared on The Howard Stern Show, where she told Stern and Robin Quivers that she was engaged to 28-year-old Robert Menchaca, and that he was managing her career. She was frank 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 discomfort and pain caused by the recent extraction of her wisdom teeth. Many callers insulted her, saying that she was a "has-been" and an addict, and she was referred to by one caller as an "ex-con lesbian drug addict with mental problems". This provoked a defiant Plato, who offered to take a drug test on the air (and she even placed a large wager on the results of the test to one particularly doubtful caller). Some callers, as well as Stern, came to Plato's defense by consoling and complimenting her.[10]

After the first three negative calls, a caller named Julie told Plato that she looked and sounded great, and that she could not fathom why people were attacking her. Plato wept while offering her gratitude to Julie, as well as to a later caller who claimed that he was a recovering addict, and he told her that he believed everything she said. Other callers asked her relatively "neutral" (mostly Diff'rent Strokes-related) questions, such as "What happened to your kid?", "Did Todd (Bridges) break your arm (in a playful brawl gone wrong) on the set of Diff'rent Strokes?" "Have you ever had the opportunity of seeing Janet Jackson change during the taping of Diff'rent Strokes?" and "I need a date with Dana!" at which Plato laughed. Stern later mentioned that she was scheduled to appear at a concert event, The Expo of the Extreme, in Chicago two weeks after the interview.[10]

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.[9] Plato went to lie down inside her Winnebago motor home parked outside the house and subsequently died of an overdose of Vanadom (Soma) and Lortab. Her death was eventually ruled a suicide.[20] Her body was cremated.[21] Moore is coincidentally the hometown of castmate Danny Cooksey, her TV stepbrother later in the series.

Son's death[edit]

On May 6, 2010, almost 11 years to the day after Dana Plato's death, her son Tyler Lambert died at age 25 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[22] His grandmother, Joni Richardson, stated that Lambert was experimenting with both drugs and alcohol, which may have contributed to his suicide.[23] Johnny Whitaker, Plato's former manager and a friend of the family, told ABCNews.com that Lambert always said he "wanted to be with Mom". "Mother's Day was always a difficult time, not only because it was Mother's Day but the anniversary of Dana's death," Whitaker said.[24]


Year Title Role Notes
1975 The Six Million Dollar Man Girl Episode: "The Bionic Woman"
1975 Beyond the Bermuda Triangle Wendy Television movie
1976, 1980 Family Mary Beth Sanders
2 episodes
1977 Exorcist II: The Heretic Sandra Phalor (uncredited)
1978 What Really Happened to the Class of '65? Episode: "The Most Likely to Succeed"
1978 to 1986 Diff'rent Strokes Kimberly Drummond 142 episodes
1978 California Suite Jenny Warren
1979 The Facts of Life Kimberly Drummond Episode: "Rough Housing"
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"
1989 Prime Suspect Diana Masters
1992 Bikini Beach Race J.D.
1992 The Sounds of Silence
1992 Night Trap Kelly Medd Video Game
1995 Millenium Day
1995 Compelling Evidence Dana Fields
1995 Lethal Cowboy Elizabeth
1997 Tiger Andrea Baker
1997 Blade Boxer Rita Direct-to-video release
1998 Desperation Boulevard Dana Plato
1998 Different Strokes Jill Martin
1999 Silent Scream Prosecuting Attorney


  1. ^ a b According to The Smoking Gun. Oklahoma authorities gave Plato's date of birth as November 7, 1964
  2. ^ "’Dana Plato, 35, Star of 'Diff'rent Strokes'". New York Times. May 10, 1999. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  3. ^ a b "Death of Actress Dana Plato in Oklahoma Ruled a Suicide". The Deseret News. 1999-05-21. Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  4. ^ "Doctor rules Dana Plato's death suicide". http://lubbockonline.com. 1999-05-22. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  5. ^ New York Times
  6. ^ Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ "Dana Plato, 35, Star of 'Diff'rent Strokes'". The New York Times. 1999-05-10. Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  8. ^ As per Social Security Death Index website
  9. ^ a b c d e Gliatto, Tom (1999-05-24). "Little Girl Lost". People 51 (19). ISSN 0093-7673. 
  10. ^ a b c d Dana Plato's final interview with Howard Stern
  11. ^ "Return to Boggy Creek". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "MobyGames Page on Night Trap". MobyGames. Retrieved 2010-08-02. 
  13. ^ Slaven, Andy (2002). Video Game Bible, 1985-2002. Trafford Publishing. p. 297. ISBN 1-55369-731-6. 
  14. ^ A.V. Club; Klosterman, Chuck (2009). Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined by Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists. Simon and Schuster. p. 91. ISBN 1-4165-9473-6. 
  15. ^ "Different Strokes: The Story of Jack & Jill... and Jill (1997)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 6, 2014. 
  16. ^ California Birth Index 1905-1995
  17. ^ http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/dana-platos-son-tyler-lambert-commits-suicide-mom/story?id=10629167
  18. ^ Sporkin, Elizabeth (1991-03-25). "Diff'rent Strokes, Fallen Stars". People 35 (11). 
  19. ^ a b The Death of Dana Plato at Morbidly Hollywood
  20. ^ O'Neill, Anne-Marie (1999-06-07). "Seeking Serenity". People 51 (20). 
  21. ^ Benoit, Tod (2009). Where Are They Buried?: How Did They Die? Fitting Ends and Final Resting Places of the Famous, Infamous, and Noteworthy. Black Dog Publishing. p. 211. ISBN 1-57912-822-X. 
  22. ^ "Dana Plato's son dies at age 25". USA Today. May 12, 2010. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  23. ^ Messer, Lesley (2010-05-13). "Son of the Late Dana Plato Commits Suicide". people.com. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  24. ^ "Dana Plato's Son Tyler Lambert Commits Suicide Like his Mom - ABC News". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 

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