Tragic Story behind 'Diff'rent Strokes' Star Dana Plato's Death That Greatly Affected Her Son
Best known as the older sister Kimberly Drummond on the 1980s television series “Diff’rent Strokes,” Dana Plato endured more scrutiny than fame which ultimately led to her untimely death.
Dana, born on November 7, 1964, in Maywood, California, had a tough start in life when her sixteen-year-old mother, Linda Strain gave her up for adoption at 18 months old.
The following year in June, a Southern Californian couple, Dean and Florine “Kay” Plato adopted Dana.
The youngster’s future looked bright as her adoptive parents soon steered her towards acting, which led to Dana starring in over 100 TV commercials, including ones for Dole bananas, Arco, and KFC.
During a brief appearance on the television show, “The Gong Show,” the producer of the NBC sitcom, “Diff’rent Strokes” spotted Dana and cast her in the role of Kimberly. Her natural charm and way with comedy soon made her a hit with fans during the shows run from 1978 to 1986.
At nineteen, Dana moved in with rock guitarist Lanny Lambert after she got fired from “Diff’rent Strokes” for being pregnant. The couple tied the knot the next year in April 1984, and Dana gave birth to their son, Tyler Edward Lambert three months later.
The young mother returned to “Diff’rent Strokes” for its final season which ran from 1985-1986, but her life would soon take a drastic turn after the program’s cancellation.
The star’s adoptive mother, Kay passed away from a blood disease in January 1988 and got left by Lanny the same week. When the couple got divorced in March 1990, Lanny won physical custody of Tyler while she got allowed visitation.
For the next few years, Dana lived on the fringe of stardom, and it took her getting arrested in January 1992, to make headlines. She used a pellet gun to rob a Las Vegas video store of $ 164 and received five years probation after she got charged with armed robbery.
The Las Vegas singer, Wayne Newton, posted her $13,000 bail and she went to a drug rehab center for the first time of many.
But she soon got into more trouble when her forging of Valium prescriptions got her arrested again. Because she violated parole terms, 30 days in jail followed.
Inbetween her arrests and rehab in 1992, Dana featured in the flick “Bikini Beach Race” and even got featured in the video game called Night Trap.
Three years later Dana still couldn’t get past roles in B-grade feature films like the 1995’s “Compelling Evidence and “Last of the Red Hot Lovers.”
By 1999, the 34-year-actress looked for ways to give her career a boost and appeared on The Howard Stern Show on May 7, where she announced her engagement to the 28-year-old Robert Menchaca who had also become her manager. It would be her last appearance on television.
The next day the couple stopped by Robert’s parent's house in Moore, Oklahoma, for Mother’s Day while on their way back to California. During the visit, Dana went for a nap in their mobile home and took a hefty dose of Valium combined with Lortab before she dozed off, never to wake again.
Robert’s mother, who was also a nurse, tried to resuscitate Dana, but to no avail. Despite rumors that Robert had something to do with her demise, it eventually got ruled a suicide, and her body got cremated.
Sadly, Dana’s son, Tyler Lambert, followed in her footsteps in every way. He got into acting but soon got sidetracked by drugs.
His former manager, Johnny Whitaker also a former child actor, who is now a certified drug counselor, tried in vain to steer Tyler away from the habits that eventually led to his death as well.
Mere days before Mother’s Day on May 6, 2010, on which would have been the 11th anniversary of his mother’s death, he committed suicide at the age of 25 from a drug overdose.
However, Johnny had seen his fair share of tragedies that seemingly followed every cast member of the 1960s hit comedy “Family Affair” in which he starred.
And years later, one of the few surviving members who starred alongside John Whitaker in the show, Kathy Garver, spoke about the show and it's alleged curse.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.