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 Michele 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.
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.”
She will live on in our hearts forever, and will be sorely missed.
AKA Dana Michelle Plato
Birthplace: Maywood, CA
Location of death: Moore, OK
Cause of death: Suicide
Remains: Cremated, (ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean)
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Bisexual
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Kimberly on Diff’rent Strokes
Mother: Linda Strain (birth mother)
Husband: Lanny C. Lambert (m. Apr-1984, div. 1985, one son)
Son: Tyler Edward Lambert (b. 2-Jul-1984, d. 6-May-2010 suicide)
Boyfriend: Robert Menchaca
Posed Naked for Playboy
Drug Possession: Cocaine
Risk Factors: Cocaine, Smoking
Diff’rent Strokes Kimberly Drummond (1978-84)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Different Strokes (25-Jun-1998)
Compelling Evidence (1995)
High School USA (16-Oct-1983)
California Suite (15-Dec-1978)
Return to Boggy Creek (1977)