Dana Plato: A Career Cut Short

Entertainment | November 7, 2021

Source: (Pinterest).

Dana Plato was born Dana Michelle Strain on November 7, 1964. Her mother was an unwed teenager who was already raising an 18-month-old. Plato was adopted by Dean and Florine “Kay” Plato although they divorced when Plato was three. She was raised primarily by her adoptive mother, and she grew up in the San Fernando Valley. Dana Plato got her start in show business at an early age since Kay Plato started to take her to casting calls when she was a baby. Plato was appearing in television commercials by the time she was seven, appearing in over 100 of them. At the same time, she was also training to be a figure skater with hopes of competing as part of the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team. In 1975, she appeared in a television movie, Beyond the Bermuda Triangle, and she had an appearance in an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. 

Source: (Factinate).

Her Early Films

At the age of 13, she made her big-screen debut in an uncredited role as Dana Phalor in The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977). This was followed by The Return to Boggy Creek (1977). 

With Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges. Source: (Pinterest).

Her Big Break And Early Problems

She next appeared in California Suite (1978) as Jenny Warren. After an appearance on The Gong Show, a producer saw her and decided to cast her in the role of Kimberly Drummond on Diff’rent Strokes alongside Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges, and Charlotte Ray. During her time on the show, she was nominated for a Young Artist Award. Unfortunately, she started to use cocaine and smoke pot off set and overdosed on diazepam when she was 14. In 1984, she was pregnant, and NBC decided to release her from her contract as she did not fit the image the network was trying to project. Plato married Lanny Lambert, a rocker, and the father of her child, in April that year. Plato returned to Diff’rent Strokes for the 1985-1986 season, and her final appearance was on the episode which aired January 17, 1986. In that episode, her character was contending with problems related to bulimia. 

Source: (Reddit).

Trying To Find Work

She struggled to find work as she couldn’t break free from the image created by Diff’rent Strokes. She appeared on a few episodes of television shows, like The Love Boat, and she was cast in television specials and made for television films. She became the first actor to appear in a video game, Night Trap, which was filmed in 1987 and released in 1992. In 1988, her adoptive mother died, Plato split with her husband, and Lambert gained custody of their son, Tyler because of Plato’s addiction to drugs and alcohol. Things got worse when she had breast augmentation to try to revive her career. She appeared in a Playboy shoot in 1989, but this did not lead to any offers from Hollywood. She picked up roles in B movies, like Bikini Beach Race (1989). When she needed quick cash, she starred in adult films. Her final films include Desperation Scream (1999), appearing as herself. The film seems to be based on her life. 

Source: (Eighties Kids).

Early Death

On February 28, 1991, she held up a video store with a pellet gun and stole less than $200. After her arrest, which happened within minutes of committing the crime, Wayne Newton bailed her out. She was sentenced to five years’ probation, but she broke her probation when she was caught forging prescriptions for Diazepam. She was then sentenced to 30 days in jail and ordered to go to rehab. She then moved to Las Vegas, where she worked at a dry-cleaning store for a time and struggled with poverty. She appeared on The Howard Stern Show the day before her death, claiming that she had been sober for 10 years. On May 8, 1999, at the age of 34, she took a few doses of Lortab and Soma and went into the RV with her fiancé to lie down as she was not feeling well. When he woke, he discovered that she had died. Her death was first ruled as an overdose, but the ruling was later changed to suicide. Her son died on May 6, 2010, two days before the 11th anniversary of her death, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Tags: Charlotte Ray | Gary Coleman | Todd Bridges

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Linda Speckhals


When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.