Plato as Kimberly on Diff'rent Strokes, in 1979
|Born||Dana Michelle Strain
November 7, 1964
Maywood, California, U.S.
|Died||May 8, 1999
Moore, Oklahoma, U.S.
Cause of death
|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. 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.
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. She was raised in the San Fernando Valley. When she was three, her adoptive parents divorced, and she lived with her mother.
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 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. 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. 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 young 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.
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. 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 several appearances during the show's final 1985-86 season, which aired on ABC, including an episode — Plato's final appearance in the series — 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.
During their 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 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. Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton posted her $13,000 bail. 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 Coleman and 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. 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 and softcore. 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 shooting 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. Just before her death, she was engaged to her manager Robert Menchaca, with whom she lived in a motor home in Navarre, Florida.
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.
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. 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. 11 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. Lambert 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."
|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
|1977||Exorcist II: The Heretic||Sandra Phalor (uncredited)|
|1977||Return to Boggy Creek||Evie Jo|
|1978||What Really Happened to the Class of '65?||Episode: "The Most Likely to Succeed"|
|1978 to 1986||Diff'rent Strokes||Kimberly Drummond||140 episodes|
|1978||California Suite||Jenny Warren|
|1979||The Facts of Life||Kimberly Drummond||Episode: "Rough Housing"|
|1980||CHiPs||Darla||Episode: "Nightingale". She also appeared in episode ""Roller Disco: Part 2" (1979), as herself, but was uncredited.|
|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||Compelling Evidence||Dana Fields|
|1997||Blade Boxer||Rita||Direct-to-video release|
|1997||Different Strokes||Jill Martin|
|1998||Desperation Boulevard||Dana Plato|
|1999||Silent Scream||Prosecuting Attorney|
- "’Dana Plato, 34, Star of 'Diff'rent Strokes'". New York Times. May 10, 1999. Retrieved 2010-08-10.
- "Death of Actress Dana Plato in Oklahoma Ruled a Suicide". The Deseret News. 1999-05-21. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- "Doctor rules Dana Plato's death suicide". http://lubbockonline.com. 1999-05-22. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
- "Dana Plato - About This Person - Movies & TV - NYTimes.com". nytimes.com. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
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- "RootsWeb: Database Index". ancestry.com. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
- Gliatto, Tom (1999-05-24). "Little Girl Lost". People 51 (19). ISSN 0093-7673.
- Dana Plato's final interview with Howard Stern
- "Return to Boggy Creek". The New York Times.
- California Birth Index 1905-1995
- ABC News. "Dana Plato's Son Tyler Lambert Commits Suicide Like his Mom - ABC News". ABC News. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
- Sporkin, Elizabeth (1991-03-25). "Diff'rent Strokes, Fallen Stars". People 35 (11).
- The Death of Dana Plato at Morbidly Hollywood
- "MobyGames Page on Night Trap". MobyGames. Retrieved 2010-08-02.
- Slaven, Andy (2002). Video Game Bible, 1985-2002. Trafford Publishing. p. 297. ISBN 1-55369-731-6.
- 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.
- "Different Strokes: The Story of Jack & Jill... and Jill (1997)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 6, 2014.
- O'Neill, Anne-Marie (1999-06-07). "Seeking Serenity". People 51 (20).
- 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.
- "Dana Plato's son dies at age 25". USA Today. May 12, 2010. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
- Messer, Lesley (2010-05-13). "Son of the Late Dana Plato Commits Suicide". people.com. Retrieved 31 May 2010.
- "Dana Plato's Son Tyler Lambert Commits Suicide Like his Mom - ABC News". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
- Dana Plato at the Internet Movie Database
- Dana Plato at AllMovie
- Dana Plato at Find a Grave
- Plato's autopsy report at The Smoking Gun
- Dana Plato on The Biography Channel first aired on December 29, 2007