Plato in 1983
Born Dana Michelle Strain
November 7, 1964
Maywood, California, U.S.
Died May 8, 1999(aged 34)
Moore, Oklahoma, United States
Occupation Actress Years active 1971–1999 Spouse Lanny Lambert (m. 1984–1990) Children Tyler Lambert (1985-2010)
Plato appeared in over 100 television commercials as a young girl. After Diff'rent Strokes, Plato's career declined, although she did get a role in Beyond the Bermuda Triangle, and small part in Exorcist II: The Heretic.
Plato was born Dana Michelle Strain on November 7, 1964, in Maywood, California, to Linda Strain, an unwed 16-year-old, who was already caring for an 18-month-old. Linda Strain put her infant daughter Dana up for adoption. Dean (August 16, 1926 – February 24, 1997) and Florine "Kay" Plato (December 27, 1938 – January 2, 1988) adopted the child in June 1965 and raised her in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles County. Her adoptive parents divorced when she was three.
Career in television and film
Kay Plato began taking Dana to auditions when she was very young. By the age of seven, Plato began doing television commercials, reportedly appearing in over 100 spots for companies as diverse as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dole, and Atlantic Richfield. She claimed 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 Plato would be typecast, or subjected to unsavory subject matter. Exorcist author/screenwriter William Peter Blatty said 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 was a trained and accomplished figure skater. At one point she was training for a possible Olympic team spot. During this time she was spotted by a producer during a brief appearance on TV's The Gong Show. She won what would become her most famous acting role. According to Plato, her mother decided she should cut back on her skating to focus on her portrayal of Kimberly Drummond on Diff'rent Strokes.
In 1978, Diff'rent Strokes debuted on NBC. The show concerned Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain), a wealthy white widower in New York City who adopted two young black boys after their parents died. Plato played Kimberly, the teenage daughter of Drummond and the sister of the two adopted boys, Willis (Todd Bridges) and Arnold (Gary Coleman). She was the oldest, Willis was second, and Arnold was the third. The show was an immediate hit.
Plato appeared on the show from 1978 until 1984 and again in 1985-1986, on two different networks. During that year, she became pregnant by her boyfriend, a musician named 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 her character was written out. Plato actually returned for several appearances during the show's final 1986 season, which appeared on ABC, including an episode (Plato's final appearance in the series) in which Kimberly suffers the effects of bulimia.
Career after Diff'rent Strokes
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 shadows 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 as it was the first game to use live actors, specifically a well known personality (Plato). It was one of the first video game titles to have mature content and attracted controversy due to its depiction of violence. The controversy eventually led to the creation of the ESRB.
Toward the end of her career, Plato chose roles that could be considered erotic or even softcore pornography. She appeared partially nude in Prime Suspect (1988) and Compelling Evidence (1995), but her most infamous film is 1997's Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill...and Jill. The movie's title was changed after shooting to tie it to Plato's famous past, but was not connected in any way to the sitcom other than through her involvement. Plato played a lesbian and the film was rated X due to sexual content, but it was not considered hardcore pornography. Plato subsequently would appear in only one more film.
Plato began having drug and alcohol problems early in life. She admitted to drinking and using recreational drugs during her years on Diff'rent Strokes.
In December 1983, Plato moved in with rock guitarist Lanny Lambert; the couple married in 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 – May 6, 2010), with Plato having visitation rights. During this time, Plato posed nude for Playboy.
In 1991, Plato ended up in Las Vegas with no work. She took a job at a dry-cleaning store to support herself. On February 28, she entered a video store, produced a gun, and demanded the money from the register. The clerk called 911 saying, "I've just been robbed by the girl who played Kimberly on Diff'rent Strokes". Fifteen 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 part of the national debate over 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 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, although she later recanted. It was reported that Plato showed up drunk for the magazine's cover shoot.
In her interview with Howard Stern, Plato mentioned that the traumatic events of her mother’s death and her husband’s 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 had also stolen more than $11 million of other peoples' money. Just before her death, she and her fiancé, Robert Menchaca, were living in a recreation vehicle in Navarre, Florida.
Final interview and death
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 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 from the recent extraction of her wisdom teeth. Many of her callers called her everything from a "has been" to an addict. She was referred to by one caller as an "ex-con lesbian drug addict with mental problems". This provoked a defiant Plato, as she offered to take a drug test on the air (and even placed a large wager on the results of the test to one particularly doubtful caller). Some callers, however, as well as Stern himself, came to Plato's defense by consoling and complimenting her.
After the first three negative calls, a caller named Julie told Plato that she looked and sounded great, and could not fathom why people were attacking her the way they were, and although they were cruel to her, she was supportive. Plato wept while offering her gratitude, as well to a later caller who claimed to be a recovering addict, and 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.
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 recreational vehicle parked outside the house and subsequently died of an overdose of Vanadom (Soma) and Lortab. Her death at the age of 34 was eventually ruled a suicide under Oklahoma law although police stated they believed it was an accident. Her body was cremated.
Almost 11 years to the day of Dana Plato's death, on May 6, 2010, Plato's son Tyler Lambert died at age 25 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His grandmother, Joni Richardson, stated that Lambert was experimenting with both drugs and alcohol, which may have contributed to his suicide. 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.
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
Episodes: "Home Movies"
1978 What Really Happened to the Class of '65? Episode: "The Most Likely to Succeed" 1978–1986 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 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
- ^ "’Dana Plato, 34, Star of 'Diff'rent Strokes'". New York Times. May 10, 1999. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/10/arts/dana-plato-34-star-of-diff-rent-strokes.html?scp=2&sq=dana%20plato&st=cse. Retrieved 2010-08-10.
- ^ According to The Smoking Gun, Oklahoma authorities gave Plato's date of birth as November 1, 1963
- ^ New York Times
- ^ Wilkins, Frank. "The Overdose Death of Dana Plato". franksreelreviews.com. http://www.franksreelreviews.com/shorttakes/plato.htm. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- ^ "Dana Plato, 34, Star of 'Diff'rent Strokes'". The New York Times. 1999-05-10. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/10/arts/dana-plato-34-star-of-diff-rent-strokes.html. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- ^ "Death of Actress Dana Plato in Oklahoma Ruled a Suicide". The Deseret News. 1999-05-21. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=336&dat=19990521&id=79MiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=GewDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6282,2811386. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- ^ As per Social Security Death Index website
- ^ a b c d Gliatto, Tom (1999-05-24). "Little Girl Lost". People 51 (19). ISSN 0093-7673. http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20128316,00.html.
- ^ a b c d Dana Plato's final interview with Howard Stern
- ^ "MobyGames Page on Night Trap". MobyGames. http://www.mobygames.com/game/sega-cd/night-trap. Retrieved 2010-08-02.
- ^ Slaven, Andy (2002). Video Game Bible, 1985-2002. Trafford Publishing. p. 297. ISBN 1-553-69731-6.
- ^ 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 1-416-59473-6.
- ^ The New York Times description of Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill...and Jill
- ^ California Birth Index 1905-1995
- ^ Sporkin, Elizabeth (1991-03-25). "Diff'rent Strokes, Fallen Stars". People 35 (11). http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20114736,00.html.
- ^ a b The Death of Dana Plato at Morbidly Hollywood
- ^ Dana Plato's and the Diff'rent Strokes Curse
- ^ O'Neill, Anne-Marie (1999-06-07). "Seeking Serenity". People 51 (20). http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20128431,00.html.
- ^ 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 1-579-12822-X.
- ^ "Dana Plato's son dies at age 25". USA Today. May 12, 2010. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/entertainment/post/2010/05/dana-platos-son-dies-at-age-25/1. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
- ^ Messer, Lesley (2010-05-13). "Son of the Late Dana Plato Commits Suicide". people.com. http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20368636,00.html. Retrieved 31 May 2010.
- ^ "Dana Plato's Son Tyler Lambert Commits Suicide Like his Mom - ABC News". Abcnews.go.com. http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/dana-platos-son-tyler-lambert-commits-suicide-mom/story?id=10629167. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
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