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 Michele Strain

(1964-11-07)November 7, 1964
DiedMay 8, 1999(1999-05-08) (aged 34)[1]
Cause of deathMultiple drug intoxication[2][3]
Alma materTaft Charter High School
OccupationActress • model
Years active1975–1999
Lanny Lambert (m. 1984–1990)
ChildrenTyler Lambert (1984–2010)
Dana Plato signature.jpeg

Dana Michelle Plato (born Dana Michelle Strain; November 7, 1964 – May 8, 1999) was an American actress and model, who was best known for her works in television and film throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Plato began her career at a young age, appearing in commercials before making her official debut as an actress in the horror film Return to Boggy Creek. The following year, she was then cast as a main character on the U.S. television sitcom Diff'rent Strokes as Kimberly Drummond, which aired from 1978 to 1986.[4] The show turned to be an instant hit, being one of the longest running television shows of its time, and brought much credibility and fame to Plato.

Throughout her professional career, she had been nominated for three Young Artist Awards for her performances throughout television, as well as being part of two TV Land Award nominations given to the cast of Diff'rent Strokes. After leaving the show, Plato attempted to establish herself as a working actress, with mixed success; she worked sporadically in made-for-TV movies and in independent films, as well as doing voice-over work. She also reached out into other ventures, including modelling for a Playboy magazine as well as appearing in the video game Night Trap as the main role.

She died in 1999 from an overdose of prescription drugs at the age of 34 after years of struggling with poverty and substance abuse.[1][2]

Life and career[edit]

Plato was born Dana Michelle Strain on November 7, 1964 in Maywood, California to Linda Strain, an unwed teenager who already was 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.[5] Plato was raised in the San Fernando Valley. When she was three, her adoptive parents divorced, and she lived with her mother.[6]

1977–1978: Career beginnings, professional skating and early appearances[edit]

At a very young age, Plato began attending auditions with her mother and from age seven began appearing in television commercials, in which she reportedly appeared in over 100 commercials. Plato made her film debut at age 13 in the horror film Return to Boggy Creek (1977).[7] Other early credits included Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and California Suite (1978).

In addition to acting, Plato was an accomplished figure skater, and 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 as 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.[citation needed]

1978–1986: Diff'rent Strokes, stardom, and marriage[edit]

The cast of Diff'rent Strokes on set in 1983

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.

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.[8] 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.[citation needed] 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.

1986–1992: Acting after Diff'rent Strokes, modelling debut with Playboy, substance abuse and legal issues[edit]

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.[9]

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.[10]

During her March 1990 divorce, Plato lost custody of her son to Lambert and was given visitation rights.[9][11] 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.[9]

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. The robbery netted Plato $164.[12] Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton posted her $13,000 bail,[13] 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.

1992–1999: Night Trap, later works, further modelling, engagement and final years[edit]

In 1992, Plato starred in the video game Night Trap, being one of the first celebrities to star in a video game. The game was an average success (the majority of the game's video content was actually filmed in 1987 then shelved), but is considered a pioneering title due to it being the first game to use live actors, along with casting a well-known personality.[14] 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 ESRB.[15]

Toward the end of her career, Plato chose roles that could be considered erotic, softcore pornography.[16] 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.[citation needed]

She became engaged to Fred Potts, a filmmaker, but the romance soon ended.[9] Just before her death, she was engaged to her manager Robert Menchaca, with whom she lived in a motor home in Navarre, Florida.[13]

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.[17] 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.[10] Although she allowed a hair to be cut for the test, Stern later claimed she asked for it back after the interview.[18]


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.[9] Plato went to lie down inside her Winnebago motor home parked outside the house, where she was then later found dead of an overdose of the painkiller Lortab, along with the muscle-relaxant Soma.[19] Her death subsequently was ruled a suicide.[20][21] Her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.[22]


Year Title Role Notes
1977 Exorcist II: The Heretic Sandra Phalor Uncredited
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 Millenium Day
1997 Tiger Andrea Baker
1997 Blade Boxer Rita Direct-to-video
1998 Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill...and Jill Jill Martin
1998 Desperation Boulevard Dana Plato
1999 Silent Scream Emma Jones
2002 Pacino Is Missing Prosecuting Attorney Final film role; 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
1976 Family Mary Beth Sanders Episode: "Home Movie"
1978 What Really Happened to the Class of '65? Episode: "The Most Likely to Succeed"
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 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"
Video Games
Year Title Role Notes
1992 Night Trap Kelly 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
1981 Young Artist Awards Best Young Actress in a Television Series Diff'rent Strokes Nominated
1982 Young Artist Awards Best Young Actress in a Television Special A Step in Time Nominated
1984 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 (shared with cast) Nominated


  1. ^ a b "'Dana Plato, 34, Star of 'Diff'rent Strokes'". The New York Times. May 10, 1999. Retrieved 2015-08-23.
  2. ^ a b "Death of Actress Dana Plato in Oklahoma Ruled a Suicide". The Deseret News. May 21, 1999. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
  3. ^ "Doctor rules Dana Plato's death suicide". lubbockonline.com. May 22, 1999. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
  4. ^ "Dana Plato – About This Person – Movies & TV – NYTimes.com". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-26.
  5. ^ "RootsWeb: Database Index". Ancestry.com. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  6. ^ Gliatto, Tom (May 24, 1999). "Little Girl Lost". People. 51 (19). ISSN 0093-7673.
  7. ^ "Return to Boggy Creek". The New York Times.
  8. ^ "Free Family Tree, Genealogy and Family History — MyHeritage". familytreelegends.com.
  9. ^ a b c d e Gliatto, Tom (May 24, 1999). "Little Girl Lost". People. 51 (19). ISSN 0093-7673.
  10. ^ a b "Dana Plato's final interview with Howard Stern". sitcomsonline.com. May 7, 1999.
  11. ^ Fisher, Luchina; Marikar, Sheila (May 13, 2010). "Growing Pains: The Trials and Tribulations of 1980s TV Child Stars". ABC News. Retrieved 2015-08-23.
  12. ^ Sporkin, Elizabeth (March 24, 1991). "Diff'rent Strokes, Fallen Stars". People. 35 (11).
  13. ^ a b "The Death of Dana Plato". Morbidly Hollywood.
  14. ^ "MobyGames Page on Night Trap". MobyGames. Retrieved 2010-08-02.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Different Strokes: The Story of Jack & Jill... and Jill (1998)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-02-06.
  17. ^ "'Diff'rent Strokes' actress dies of apparent overdose". variety.com. 10 May 1999.
  18. ^ Buffa, Denise (11 May 1999). "STERN: DANA TRIED DESPERATELY TO DODGE DRUG TEST". nypost.com.
  19. ^ "Actress Dana Plato Dies at 34". Washington Post.
  20. ^ O'Neill, Anne-Marie (June 7, 1999). "Seeking Serenity". People. 51 (20).
  22. ^ 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.

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