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Dana Michelle Plato (November 7, 1964 – May 8, 1999) was an American actress notable for playing the role of Kimberly Drummond in the U.S. television sitcom Diff'rent Strokes. Plato's career declined after her departure from the show, with appearances in low-budget films, including softcore pornography. She had longstanding personal problems and died from an overdose of prescription medication on May 8, 1999.

Childhood

Plato was born on November 7, 1964,in Maywood, Californiamarker to Linda Strain, an unwed 16-year-old, who was already caring for an 18-month-old. Strain put her infant daughter Dana up for adoption and Dean and Florine "Kay" Plato adopted the child in June 1965, raising her in the San Fernando Valleymarker in Los Angelesmarker.

Career in television and film

Kay Plato began taking Dana to auditions when she was very young. By the age of seven, Dana 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 made her film debut in 1977, at the age of thirteen in Return to Boggy Creek. Other credits include California Suite, High School U.S.A. and Exorcist II: The Heretic.

Plato was a trained and accomplished figure skater. At one point she was training for a possible Olympic team spot (she later claimed that she qualified for the team). and 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.

Diff'rent Strokes

In 1978, Diff'rent Strokes debuted on NBC. The show concerned Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain), a wealthy white widower in New Yorkmarker 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 until 1984. During that year, she got 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 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 1984, 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, while more respectable roles eluded her.

In 1992, Plato was one of the first celebrities to star in a video game. The game, Night Trap, was universally panned by critics and attracted much controversy (the secondary reason the ESRB exists today) over a scene of a girl in a nightgown being killed, although that scene was considered to have been in the comedic vein of the entire game. Plato's career took another hit from the attitudes toward the game.

In 1994, Plato underwent additional plastic surgery to further enhance her breasts. She acquired several tattoos, including a dove on the back of her left shoulder, a winged fairy and a star above her groin, and flowers on her feet.

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 picture 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 would appear in only one more film.

Troubled personal life

Plato, arrested in Las Vegas, January 1992, for forging a Valium prescription.


Plato began having drug and alcohol problems early in life. At age 14, she overdosed on Valium. She admitted to drinking and using recreational drugs during her years on Diff'rent Strokes.

In 1988, Plato's adoptive mother, Kay, died from scleroderma. Shortly thereafter, Plato's marriage to Lanny Lambert began to fall apart. The couple officially divorced in 1990, with Lambert getting custody of their only child, Tyler (born 1985). 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. One day, she entered a video store, produced a gun, and demanded the money from the register. She was arrested minutes later. Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton posted her US$13,000 bail bond. Plato was given five years' probation. The gun was only a pellet gun and the robbery netted Plato less than US$200. 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 Valium. 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 leaving her took place during the course of only a week. In desperation, she signed over power of attorney to an accountant who absconded with the majority of her money, leaving her with no more than US$150,000. She claimed that the accountant was never found, despite an exhaustive search, and had stolen a grand total of more than US$11 million of other people's money, as well.

Just before her death, she and her fiancé, Robert Menchaca, were living in a recreation vehicle in Navarre, Floridamarker.

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 the 28-year-old Robert Menchaca, and that he was managing her career. She was frank about her situation, discussing her financial problems and past run-ins with the law. She admitted to being a recovering alcoholic/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, came to Plato's defense by consoling and complimenting her. After the first three negative calls, a caller named Julie told Dana 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, likely most humorously, "I need a date with Dana!" which gave Plato a good laugh. Stern later mentioned that she was scheduled to appear at a concert event, The Expo of the Extreme, in Chicagomarker two weeks after the interview.

The next day, Plato and Menchaca were returning to California, hoping to revive her stagnant career. The couple stopped at Menchaca's mother's home in Moore, Oklahomamarker (coincidentally, the birthplace of another Diff'rent Strokes cast member, Danny Cooksey) 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 from Vanadom (Soma) and Vicodin. Her death at the early age of 34 was eventually ruled a suicide. Subsequently both Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges, who remained friends with Plato after Diff'rent Strokes, have said they do not believe she intended to kill herself, and that they believe it was an accidental overdose. Her body was cremated.

Much confusion remains about her precise age. Oklahoma authorities, presumably taking the information from Plato's Florida driver's license, determined her birth date to be November 1, 1963, making her 35 when she died, while many news sources reported that she was born on November 7, 1964. Plato claimed that she was only 34 years old at one point during her Howard Stern appearance, which took place one day before she died.

Legacy

She ranked at 91 on VH1's 100 Greatest Kid Stars. She was one of E!'s 50 Greatest Child Stars.

References

External links




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