Dana Plato

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Dana Plato
Dana Plato on the set of television show 'Diff'rent Strokes' 1983-03-09.jpg
Plato in 1983
Dana Michelle Strain

(1964-11-07)November 7, 1964
DiedMay 8, 1999(1999-05-08) (aged 34)[1]
Cause of deathMultiple drug intoxication[2][3]
Years active1975–1999
Lanny Lambert
(m. 1984; div. 1990)

Scott Atkins
(m. 1996)
ChildrenTyler Lambert (1984–2010)
Dana Plato signature.jpeg

Dana Michelle Plato (née Strain; November 7, 1964 – May 8, 1999)[4][5] was an American actress. An influential child actor, she appeared on VH1's list of "100 Greatest Kid Stars".[6] She was known for portraying Kimberly Drummond on the NBC/ABC sitcom Diff'rent Strokes (1978–1986), for which she received a Young Artist Award nomination.

Plato appeared in the horror film Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) as Sandra Phalor, headlined the adventure-horror film Return to Boggy Creek (1977) as Evie Jo, and starred in the comedy film California Suite (1978) as Jenny Warren. Starting from the mid-1980s, Plato worked sporadically in independent films and B movies. She notably led the horror game Night Trap (1992) as Kelli Medd, being one of the first celebrities to appear in a video game. She was an accomplished figure skater before acting, and trained for the Olympic Games.

Plato's personal life received a great deal of media coverage, and she struggled with substance and alcohol abuse. In 1999, she died from a drug overdose (later ruled as a suicide) of prescription drugs at the age of 34.

Early life[edit]

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 Dana 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.[7]

In 1995, during an appearance on The Marilyn Kagen Show alongside co-star Todd Bridges, she spoke of her childhood with her mother, commenting how she had not learned "reality and life skills".[8] Plato stated: "My mother made sure that I was normal. The only thing that she did, the mistake she made, was that she kept me in a plastic bubble. So, I didn't learn about reality and life skills." Marilyn Kagen, the host of the show, told Plato that she may have been used for a free meal ticket, which Plato denied, explaining that her mother's ways were so that she would not become a prima donna.[8]

During her years on Diff'rent Strokes, Plato struggled with drug and alcohol problems. She admitted to drinking alcohol, using cannabis and cocaine, and suffered an overdose of diazepam when she was 14.[7]


At a very young age, Plato began attending auditions with her mother, and from age seven appeared in over 100 commercials.[8] She made her television acting debut at the age of 10, making a brief appearance on the television show The Six Million Dollar Man. She then starred in the 1975 made for television film Beyond the Bermuda Triangle.

Plato made her film debut at the age of 13, appearing as Sandra Phalor in the horror film Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), for which she was uncredited. She also starred as Evie Joe in the horror film Return to Boggy Creek (1977) in the same year,[9] and both films were received negatively by critics.[10][11][12] She next starred as Jenny Warren in California Suite (1978); although a minor role, the film was a critical and commercial success,[13] and earned accolades from the Academy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards.

The cast of Diff'rent Strokes on set in 1983

In addition to acting, Plato was an accomplished figure skater, and at one point she trained for a possible Olympic team spot.[14] She made a brief appearance on The Gong Show and was spotted by a producer who helped cast her as Kimberly Drummond, the older sister to adopted brothers Arnold and Willis Jackson, on the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes. The series debuted on NBC in 1978 and became an immediate hit. Plato starred on the show from 1978 until 1984, and again from 1985 to 1986; during her tenure, the show appeared on two different networks.[15] In the season 8 episode that aired on January 17, 1986—Plato's final appearance on the show—Kimberly suffered from the effects of bulimia.

Plato was nominated for a Young Artist Award for her work on Diff'rent Strokes, and also was part of two TV Land Award nominations given to the cast of the show.[16][17][18] In 1981, she appeared in the television special A Step in Time.[19] For her role, Plato received a Young Artist Award nomination. In 1983, she starred in the television film High School U.S.A. as Cara Ames, alongside Todd Bridges, who starred as Otto Lipton.[20] In spite of the film being met with a mixed response from critics and viewers alike,[21][22] it gained popularity at the time of its premiere, particularly for its cast.

In 1992, Plato starred in the video game Night Trap, becoming one of the first celebrities to appear in a video game. The game was a moderate success (the majority of the game's video content was actually filmed in 1987 and then shelved), but is considered a pioneering title because it was the first to use live actors, one of whom was a well-known personality.[23] Though the game received mixed to negative reviews, it is best remembered for the controversy it created over the violence and sexuality, along with that surrounding Mortal Kombat, which had eventually led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).[24]

After leaving Diff'rent Strokes, Plato attempted to establish herself as a serious actress, but found it difficult to achieve success. She had breast implants and modeled for a June 1989 Playboy pictorial, but her career remained stagnant. Consequently, she started taking roles in such B-movies as Bikini Beach Race (1989) and Lethal Cowboy (1992).

Toward the end of her career, Plato chose roles that were erotic;[25] 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), the title of which 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. Her last works include Desperation Boulevard (1998), in which she appears as herself, and which appears to be based on her life; Silent Scream (1999), in which she appears as Emma Jones; and Pacino Is Missing (2002), which was released after her death, in which she appears as an attorney.

Personal life[edit]

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. When it was revealed that she was pregnant, she was written out of Diff'rent Strokes.[26] Her co-star Conrad Bain had revealed that she was happy about her baby and that she would no longer be alone.[7][8] Bain stated in an interview with People: "She deliberately got pregnant while doing the series, when I spoke to her about it, she was enthusiastic about having done that... [saying that] 'When I get the baby, I will never be alone again.' "

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 less 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.[27] During her March 1990 divorce, Plato lost custody of her son to Lambert and was given visitation rights.[7][28]

Plato thereafter became engaged to Fred Potts, a filmmaker, but the romance ended. She was married to actor and producer Scott Atkins (Scotty Gelt) in Vancouver for one month before the marriage was annulled. Before her death, she was engaged to her manager Robert Menchaca, with whom she lived in a motor home in Navarre, Florida.[29]

On February 28, 1991, she entered a video store, produced a pellet gun, and demanded the money in the cash register. The clerk called 9-1-1 and said, "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. Plato had stolen $164.[30] Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton posted her $13,000 bail,[29] 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.[31][32] In January 1992, she was arrested again, this time for forging a prescription for diazepam.[1] She served 30 days in jail for violating the terms of her probation and immediately entered a drug rehabilitation program.

Plato later 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 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 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 her wisdom teeth.[33] Many callers to the show insulted her and questioned her sobriety, which angered and 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, though Stern also referred to himself as "an enabler", and sarcastically offered Plato drugs.[27] Although she allowed a hair to be cut for the test, Stern later claimed she asked for it back after the interview.[34]


On May 8, 1999, Plato and Menchaca were returning to California and stopped at Menchaca's mother's home in Moore, Oklahoma, for a Mother's Day visit.[7] Later on in the visit, Plato said that she felt unwell, and took a few doses of a hydrocodone / acetaminophen painkiller (Lortab), along with the muscle-relaxant carisoprodol (Soma),[35] and went to lie down inside her Winnebago motor home with Menchaca, which was parked outside the house.[7] Upon waking up, Menchaca and their family discovered that Plato had died in her sleep – initially assumed an accidental overdose but later ruled a suicide based on Plato's long history of drug abuse.[36][37] Her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.[38]

In 2000, Fox broadcast a television documentary based on Plato, titled After Diff'rent Strokes: When the Laughter Stopped. The film was focused on her life and work after the show, including her death. It featured actors who at the time were unknown, as well as Todd Bridges, who made a cameo appearance.[39] In 2006, NBC aired the television film Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff'rent Strokes, which was based on the lives of the child stars who had worked on the show. At the end of the film, where Bridges and Gary Coleman appeared, they stand near Plato's grave.[40]

On what would have been Plato's 55th birthday, Bridges commented on Twitter about their friendship, leaving a tribute to Plato.[4] Bridges stated: "You were the one person I could always talk to. You were one of my best friends. I will never forget you and love you forever. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Dana Plato R.I.P you are free my friend."[41] On May 6, 2010, two days before the 11th anniversary of Plato's death, her 26-year-old son Tyler committed suicide with a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head.[42]



Year Title Role Notes
1977 Exorcist II: The Heretic Sandra Phalor Uncredited role
1977 Return to Boggy Creek Evie Joe
1978 California Suite Jenny Warren
1989 Prime Suspect Diana Masters
1992 Bikini Beach Race J.D.
1992 The Sounds of Silence Deborah Nichols
1995 Compelling Evidence Dana Fields
1995 Lethal Cowboy Elizabeth
1995 Millennium Day
1997 Tiger Andrea Baker
1997 Blade Boxer Rita Direct-to-video film
1997 Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill...and Jill Jill Martin
1998 Desperation Boulevard Herself
1999 Silent Scream Emma Jones
2002 Pacino Is Missing Prosecuting Attorney Posthumous release


Year Title Role Notes
1975 The Six Million Dollar Man Girl Episode: "The Bionic Woman"
1975 Beyond the Bermuda Triangle Wendy Television film
1975–82 Veema Naomi Main role (seasons 1-7)
1976 Family Mary Beth Sanders Episode: "Home Movie"
1978 What Really Happened to the Class of '65? Episode: "The Most Likely to Succeed"
1978 The Gong Show Herself Game show
1978–86 Diff'rent Strokes Kimberly Drummond 140 episodes
Main cast (seasons 1–6); recurring role (seasons 7–8)
1979 Hello, Larry Kimberly Drummond 3 episodes
Guest star (season 1–2)
1979 The Facts of Life Kimberly Drummond Episode: "Rough Housing"
1979–80 CHiPs Dana Plato 2 episodes
Guest star (season 3)
1980 Family Debbie Episode: "Letting Go"
1980 ABC Afterschool Specials Daisy Dallenger Episode: "Schoolboy Father"
1981 A Step in Time Television film
1982 The Family Life Naomi Episode "The Kids are Moving In"
1982 Walt Disney World's 10th Anniversary Daughter Television special
1983 High School U.S.A. Cara Ames Television film
1984 The Love Boat Patty Springer Episode: "Paying the Piper/Baby Sister/Help Wanted"
1985 Growing Pains Lisa Episode: "Mike's Madonna Story"
1989 The Arsenio Hall Show Herself 1 episode

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1992 Night Trap Kelli Medd The game became a talking point two years later, in the Senate video game violence hearings of 1994.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result Ref.
1981 Young Artist Awards Best Young Actress in a Television Special A Step in Time Nominated [43]
1983 Young Artist Awards Best Young Actress in a Comedy Series Diff'rent Strokes Nominated [16]
2003 TV Land Awards Quintessential Non-Traditional Family (shared with cast) Nominated [17]
2004 TV Land Awards Quintessential Non-Traditional Family Nominated [18]


  1. ^ a b "Dana Plato, 34, Star of 'Diff'rent Strokes'". The New York Times. Associated Press. May 10, 1999. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
  2. ^ "Death of Actress Dana Plato in Oklahoma Ruled a Suicide". Deseret News. Associated Press. May 21, 1999. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  3. ^ "Doctor rules Dana Plato's death suicide". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. May 22, 1999. Archived from the original on August 30, 2012. Retrieved July 15, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Helling, Steve. "Diff'rent Strokes' Todd Bridges Remembers Dana Plato on What Would've Been Her 55th Birthday: 'You're Free My friend'". People. Retrieved January 4, 2020.
  5. ^ Finn, Natalie (April 13, 2020). "The Most Heartbreaking Teen Star Tragedies". E! News. Retrieved January 4, 2020.
  6. ^ "AmIAnnoying.com - VH-1's 100 Greatest Kid Stars". www.amiannoying.com. Retrieved September 18, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Gliatto, Tom (May 24, 1999). "Little Girl Lost". People. Vol. 51 no. 19. ISSN 0093-7673.
  8. ^ a b c d Rivas, Aby (January 25, 2020). "Late 'Diff'Rent Strokes' Star Dana Plato Once Revealed That Mom Kept Her in a 'Plastic Bubble'". AmoMama. Retrieved January 25, 2020.
  9. ^ "Return to Boggy Creek". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2013. Archived from the original on November 4, 2013.
  10. ^ Kaye, Don (April 15, 2013). "Exorcist director says sequel is 'one of the worst films I've ever seen'". SYFY WIRE. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
  11. ^ Sindelar, Dave (June 12, 2016). "Return to Boggy Creek (1977)". Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings. Retrieved January 4, 2020.
  12. ^ "Return to Boggy Creek". Bleeding Skull. Archived from the original on May 15, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2020.
  13. ^ "California Suite (1978) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 4, 2020.
  14. ^ "'Diff'rent Strokes': Todd Bridges is now the last living member of the core cast". USA Today. June 8, 2018. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  15. ^ Cammila Collar (2013). "Dana Plato – About This Person – Movies & TV". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 5, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  16. ^ a b "5th Annual Awards". Young Artist Award. April 3, 2011. Archived from the original on April 3, 2011. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
  17. ^ a b "TV Land Awards (2003)". IMDb. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
  18. ^ a b "TV Land Awards (2004)". IMDb. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
  19. ^ "A Step in Time". IMDb. Retrieved January 7, 2020.
  20. ^ Buck, Jerry (October 6, 1983). "Stars of yesterday team with those of today". The Spokesman-Review TV Review. Spokane, Wash. Associated Press. p. 5. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  21. ^ "High School U.S.A. (1983)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 7, 2020.
  22. ^ "High School U.S.A." IMDb. Retrieved January 7, 2020.
  23. ^ "MobyGames Page on Night Trap". MobyGames. Retrieved August 2, 2010.
  24. ^ A.V. Club (October 13, 2009). Josh Modell; Keith Phipps; Tasha Robinson; Kyle Ryan (eds.). 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 978-1439109892.
  25. ^ Robert Firsching (2014). "Different Strokes: The Story of Jack & Jill... and Jill (1998)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 9, 2014. Retrieved February 6, 2014.
  26. ^ Ferris, Amanda (September 22, 2018). "20 Actor Mamas Who Were Written Out Due To Their Pregnancies". Moms. Retrieved January 25, 2020.
  27. ^ a b "Dana Plato's final interview with Howard Stern". sitcomsonline.com. May 7, 1999.
  28. ^ Fisher, Luchina; Marikar, Sheila (May 13, 2010). "Growing Pains: The Trials and Tribulations of 1980s TV Child Stars". ABC News. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
  29. ^ a b Wilkins, Frank. "The Overdose Death of Dana Plato". Morbidly Hollywood.
  30. ^ Sporkin, Elizabeth (March 24, 1991). "Diff'rent Strokes, Fallen Stars". People. 35 (11).
  31. ^ "VIDEO VAULT: Child actress Dana Plato robs a Vegas video store in 1991". KSNV News. October 11, 2015. Retrieved January 4, 2020.
  32. ^ Sporkin, Elizabeth (March 25, 1991). "Diff'rent Strokes, Fallen Stars". People. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  33. ^ "'Diff'rent Strokes' actress dies of apparent overdose". Variety. Reuters. May 10, 1999.
  34. ^ Buffa, Denise (May 11, 1999). "Stern: Dana Tried Desperately To Dodge Drug Test". New York Post.
  35. ^ "Actress Dana Plato Dies at 34". The Washington Post. October 5, 1999.
  36. ^ O'Neill, Anne-Marie (June 7, 1999). "Seeking Serenity". People. 51 (20).
  37. ^ "Death of 'Diff'rent Strokes' Actress Ruled A Suicide". Chicago Tribune. May 21, 1999. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  38. ^ Benoit, Tod (March 26, 2019). Where Are They Buried?: How Did They Die? Fitting Ends and Final Resting Places of the Famous, Infamous, and Noteworthy. Running Press. p. 211. ISBN 978-0762466801.
  39. ^ "Long Island News From the Long Island Press". Long Island Press. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  40. ^ McDonough, Kevin (September 4, 2006). "Refried nostalgia, overcooked comedy". Times Herald-Record. Middletown, NY. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  41. ^ "@ToddBridges". Twitter. November 7, 2019. Retrieved January 4, 2020.
  42. ^ GASKELL, STEPHANIE. "Dana Plato's son, Tyler Lambert, commits suicide 11 years after 'Diff'rent Strokes' star overdosed". nydailynews.com. Retrieved January 3, 2021.
  43. ^ "3rd Annual Awards". Young Artist Award. April 2, 2011. Archived from the original on April 2, 2011. Retrieved January 18, 2020.

External links[edit]