Dana Plato led quite an interesting life, full of dizzying heights and shattering lows. She came to fame as a child star but found out soon enough that early fame often has its own pitfalls. Best known as Kimberly Drummond, the older sister on TV's "Diff'rent Strokes," Dana went through a lot while never quite escaping the scrutiny of the media and fans.

Dana Michelle Plato was born in Maywood, California on November 7, 1964. Her birth mother (Linda Strain who was a 16-year-old unwed mother already struggling to support an 18-month-old child) gave her up for adoption as an infant and she was taken in by a Southern California couple (adopted by Dean and Florine 'Kay' Plato in June 1965) who soon enough guided her into acting. Dana landed roles on over 100 TV commercials as a child, including appearances for KFC, Arco and Dole bananas. Her questionable luck kicked in early on -- Dana was chosen for the lead role in "The Exorcist" but her adoptive mother refused to let her appear in such a film. So while Linda Blair went on to huge stardom, Dana was left with roles in flicks like 1975's "Beyond the Bermuda Triangle." (Dana did grab a small part in "Exorcist II: The Heretic," a film that has been voted one of the worst of all time.)

Dana's fortunes began to turn when she was spotted by a producer during a brief appearance on TV's "The Gong Show." He was casting a new sitcom for NBC which was to become "Diff'rent Strokes," and Dana landed the part of Kimberly. Her girl-next-door cuteness and seemingly effortless way with comedy won her lots of fans during the show's prime time run, which lasted from 1978 to 1986. Dana moved in with rock guitarist Lanny Lambert in December 1983. In April 1984, she married Lanny and on July 2nd, 1984 their son Tyler Edward Lambert was born. Dana was fired from Diff'rent Strokes after the 1983-1984 season because of her pregnancy, but she did return for the final season on ABC in 1985-1986. By the time the program was cancelled, Dana had blossomed into a striking young woman, but her acting career could never escape the long shadows cast by her sitcom stardom.

Dana's mother, Florine 'Kay' Plato, who had guided her career died of a blood disease in January of 1988 and her husband reportedly left her the same week. Dana and Lanny would divorce in March of 1990 and Dana was allowed visitation of her son, but her husband won physical custody of Tyler.

Dana drifted in and out of the business over the next few years. She posed for a June 1989 pictorial in Playboy (a 5-page nude layout, the shots were taken in November 1988 in Arizona), showing off the delectable figure that she'd kept hidden for all those years. The nude pictorial did nothing to help revive her career, though, and Dana continued to languish on the fringes of the entertainment industry. She blasted her way back into the headlines in January of 1992, when she was arrested for the armed robbery of a Las Vegas video store (which she used a pellet gun and netted her $164) - she was charged with armed robbery and was later sentenced to five years probation. Her ill-conceived grab for rent money (it was really a cry for help according to many people) sent her to jail for a short stint, but her new notoriety managed to get her work in the "no publicity is bad publicity" world of Hollywood. Dana was helped by Las Vegas singer, Wayne Newton, who posted the $13,000 bail for her. In January of 1992 she was arrested for forging Valium prescriptions. Cited for parole violation, she served 30 days in jail. In 1993, she spent a month in a drug and alcohol rehab center in Las Vegas - one of several times she went into rehab. She first went into drug rehab on January 20, 1992.

Following her jail term, Dana appeared in a string of B-grade features including such sterling gems as 1992's "Bikini Beach Race" and 1995's "Compelling Evidence." She was featured in a video game in 1992 called Night Trap as a scantily clad victim.  In 1995, she was in a play called "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" where she received passing grades. Her experiences behind bars also seemed to change more than just her career prospects -- Dana came out as a lesbian in a 1998 issue of the Sapphic pride magazine "Girlfriends." (she had said in more recent interviews that she was not a lesbian and was only experimenting). She turned plenty of heads with her scintillating performance in the 1997 straight-to-video epic "Different Strokes." It's a steamy softcore tale of a guy and a girl and another girl, and Dana shows off her curvaceous figure and lust for her fellow femmes in a series of sensual scenes.

Sadly and tragically, she died of a prescription drug overdose on May 8th, 1999.

According to Sgt. Scott Singer of the Moore (Oklahoma) Police Dept., "At this point, we having nothing against Robert Menchaca (her fiance at the time of her death). But the statute of limitations does not run out on deaths for seven years. So if the police do get evidence that Robert is guilty by criminal negligence or actual participation, we will certainly prosecute."

MOORE, Okla. (AP - May 9th, 1999) - Actress Dana Plato, who like her fellow "Diff'rent Strokes" child co-stars had seen legal troubles since the show was canceled, has died of a drug overdose.

Ms. Plato, 34, apparently took the painkiller Lortab along with Valium on Saturday while visiting the home of her fiance's parents.

"The death appears to be an accidental overdose. We don't suspect suicide," police Sgt. Scott Singer said Sunday.

Ms. Plato played Kimberly Drummond on the NBC sitcom that ran from 1978 to 1985 (and ABC from 1985-1986).

She was arrested in 1991 for robbing a Las Vegas video store, and was placed on five years' probation. In 1992 she was given an additional five years' probation for forging prescriptions for Valium.

"If I hadn't gotten caught, it could have been the worst thing that happened to me because I could have died of a drug overdose," she told reporters in 1992.

Ms. Plato and her fiance, Robert Menchaca, had stopped at his parents' home in Moore for Mother's Day. Ms. Plato and Menchaca, 28, were en route to Los Angeles after she appeared on the Howard Stern's radio program in New York as part of an effort to jump-start her career.

She went on the show to deny the stories of a woman who claimed to know Ms. Plato well. The woman had called Stern's show, saying Ms. Plato was on drugs.

Ms. Plato acknowledged the woman had been a roommate, but said she had been sober for about 10 years. She also said she had her wisdom teeth out about four months ago and had to take pain killers for that.

Singer said Ms. Plato went to take a nap Saturday afternoon. After Menchaca realized that evening that there was a problem, his mother, who's a nurse, and his brother tried unsuccessfully to revive her with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Singer says toxicology results aren't expected for about six weeks.

Ms. Plato's recent career had included mainly low-budget films such as 1992's ''Bikini Beach Race'' and the 1997 film "Different Strokes: A Story of Jack and Jill ... and Jill," a direct-to-video softcore tale about a sexual threesome.

Among her co-stars on "Diff'rent Strokes," Todd Bridges, who played Willis, has been arrested several times. In 1990, he was acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon in the near fatal shooting of a narcotics dealer in a Los Angeles drug den.

He once testified that he became depressed and turned to drugs after "Diff'rent Strokes" was canceled.

Gary Coleman, who played the lovable Arnold on the show, pleaded no contest in February to disturbing the peace for punching an autograph-seeker in the eye. He was ordered to attend anger management classes, fined and given a suspended jail sentence.

Ms. Plato has a 14-year-old son, Tyler Lambert of Tulsa, from a previous marriage.

'Diff'rent Strokes' Actress's Death Declared Suicide

05/22/1999, The Associated Press - Oklahoma City, OK

Former child actress Dana Plato, who had long battled problems with drugs, committed suicide with an overdose of painkillers and muscle relaxants, the state medical examiner's office ruled Friday.

Plato, who played Kimberly Drummond on the NBC sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes" from 1978 to 1984 (and on ABC from 1985 to 1986), died May 8 while visiting her fiance's parents in Moore.

"I expected that she overdosed," fiance Robert Menchaca Jr., said Friday. He had said in a news conference days after the death that he trusted her judgment as she took the prescription drugs he said a Tulsa doctor had prescribed May 3 for back injuries Plato had suffered in a car accident.

Police initially said she died of an accidental drug overdose of Lortab and Valium.

But Dr. Larry E. Balding, the deputy medical examiner, said Friday that laboratory studies showed fatal concentrations of the drugs carisoprodol and hydro- codone/acetaminophen in her blood and tissues and the equivalent of seven tablets of carisoprodol still in her stomach. Carisoprodol is the generic name for the muscle relaxant Soma. Hydrocodone/acetam- inophen is the generic formulation for the painkiller Lortab.

Balding said the death was ruled a suicide because of the drug concentrations, her past history of suicidal gestures and the agency's investigation of the death.

Plato, 34, had had numerous problems since the sitcom's cancellation. In 1991, she was arrested for robbing a Las Vegas video store and was placed on five years' probation. A year later, she was given another five years' probation for forging prescriptions for Valium.

"If I hadn't gotten caught, it could have been the worst thing that happened to me, because I could have died of a drug overdose," she said then.

Plato had appeared on Howard Stern's radio program in New York on May 7 to deny the claims of a former roommate who said Plato was on drugs. Plato said she had been sober for about 10 years, though she had taken painkillers when her wisdom teeth were removed four months ago.

This week, a Cleveland County judge ordered the motor home where Plato died impounded until a hearing can be held to determine who owns the vehicle.

Plato's 14-year-old son, Tyler Lambert of Tulsa, wants the motor home. Menchaca's attorney said his client paid for the motor home although it was in her name.

Outside the courthouse, Lambert's paternal grandmother, Joni Richardson, said she was suspicious of Menchaca's motives and noted that he had taken photos of Plato in a comatose state.

Menchaca had told police he thought Plato was snoring when he took the photos. Moore police spokesman Sgt. Scott Singer said that actually Plato's lungs were filling with fluid.

A memorial service was held on Sunday, May 23rd in Los Angeles.

For a listing of the movies/tv shows she has appeared in, see the Filmography section.

For additional interesting facts on Dana, see the Did You Know? section.

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