Dana Michelle Strain
November 7, 1964
Maywood, California, U.S.
|Died||May 8, 1999 (aged 34)|
Moore, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Cause of death||Multiple drug intoxication|
(m. 1984; div. 1990)
|Children||Tyler Lambert (1984–2010)|
Dana Michelle Plato (née Strain; November 7, 1964 – May 8, 1999) was an American actress. An influential child actor, she appeared on VH1's list of "100 Greatest Kid Stars". 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.
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.
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". 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.
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.
At a very young age, Plato began attending auditions with her mother, and from age seven appeared in over 100 commercials. 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, and both films were received negatively by critics. She next starred as Jenny Warren in California Suite (1978); although a minor role, the film was a critical and commercial success, and earned accolades from the Academy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards.
In addition to acting, Plato was an accomplished figure skater, and at one point she trained for a possible Olympic team spot. 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. 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. In 1981, she appeared in the television special A Step in Time. 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. In spite of the film being met with a mixed response from critics and viewers alike, 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. 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).
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; 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.
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. Her co-star Conrad Bain had revealed that she was happy about her baby and that she would no longer be alone. 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. During her March 1990 divorce, Plato lost custody of her son to Lambert and was given visitation rights.
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.
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. 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 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. 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. Although she allowed a hair to be cut for the test, Stern later claimed she asked for it back after the interview.
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. 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), and went to lie down inside her Winnebago motor home with Menchaca, which was parked outside the house. 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. Her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.
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. 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.
On what would have been Plato's 55th birthday, Bridges commented on Twitter about their friendship, leaving a tribute to Plato. 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." 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.
|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|
|1997||Blade Boxer||Rita||Direct-to-video film|
|1997||Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill...and Jill||Jill Martin|
|1999||Silent Scream||Emma Jones|
|2002||Pacino Is Missing||Prosecuting Attorney||Posthumous release|
|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|
|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
|1981||Young Artist Awards||Best Young Actress in a Television Special||A Step in Time||Nominated|||
|1983||Young Artist Awards||Best Young Actress in a Comedy Series||Diff'rent Strokes||Nominated|||
|2003||TV Land Awards||Quintessential Non-Traditional Family (shared with cast)||Nominated|||
|2004||TV Land Awards||Quintessential Non-Traditional Family||Nominated|||
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- Fisher, Luchina; Marikar, Sheila (May 13, 2010). "Growing Pains: The Trials and Tribulations of 1980s TV Child Stars". ABC News. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
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