Late actress Dana Plato, better known for her childhood role as Kimberly Drummond on the NBC sitcom “Diff'rent Strokes,” once confessed that she lacked some necessary life skills because her overprotective mom had kept her in a “plastic bubble.”
Dana Plato, like many other ‘80s child stars, had a complicated life that was marred with drug and alcohol abuse, and that ended in tragedy with her suicide in 1999.
Dana Plato attends Saturn Awards on October 20, 1994 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California | Photo: GettyImages
DANA PLATO’S EARLY LIFE
Plato became famous at an early age when her adoptive mother, Kay Plato, started to take her to casting calls.
According to some of her friends and family members, Plato had been lying about her sobriety for years, and she always relapsed.
"Diff'erent Strokes" Season 4. Pictured: Dana Plato as Kimberly Drummond | Photo: GettyImages
By the time she was 7, Dana had appeared in commercials—she had done almost 100—TV shows and films, while also training to be a figure skater.
However, in 1977, she had to pick between her possible Olympic career and television when she landed the role of Kimberly Drummond on “Diff’rent Strokes.” She chose the latter, and when the show debuted in 1978, Dana and her co-stars became an instant sensation.
The cast of "Diff'rent Strokes" on set in 1983 with Nancy Reagan | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images
DEALING WITH FAME
In the popular 80s sitcom, Danna gave life to the teenage daughter of Phillip Drummond, a wealthy white widower played by Conrad Bain, who adopted two black boys: Willis, played by Todd Bridges, and Arnold, played by Gary Coleman.
Plato, Bridges, and Coleman forged a friendship that went beyond the screen, but dealing with fame wasn’t easy for the then teenagers, and they resorted to taking drugs outside of the set.
By the time Dana was 15, she would show up drunk to work. And by the time she was 18, she got pregnant by her then 21-year-old boyfriend, Lanny Lambert, and was written off the show.
“She deliberately got pregnant while doing the series,” his co-star Conrad Bain told People. “When I spoke to her about it, she was enthusiastic about having done that.” He said she also told him: “When I get the baby, I will never be alone again.”
Dana Plato as Kimberly Drummond, Conrad Bain as Philip Drummond, Todd Bridges as Willis Jackson, Gary Coleman as Arnold Jackson on "Diff'rent Strokes" | Photo: GettyImages
LIFE AFTER THE SHOW
Dana, like Bridges and Coleman, struggled to find her place in Hollywood after “Diff’rent Strokes.”
To get rid of her teenage image, she got breast implants and bared it all for Playboy magazine in 1989. She also appeared on some B-rated movies and went as far as to perform in a softcore erotic drama.
A year earlier, Plato had suffered a double blow in her personal life when her husband filed for divorce the same week her mother Kai passed away. Things only worsened in 1990 when, as part of their divorce proceedings, Plato lost custody of her son Tyler Edward Lambert.
Dana Plato ("Diff''rent Strokes") at the Hollywood Collectors Show. 1998 Hollywood, CA. | Photo: GettyImages
Dana spiraled down abusing drugs and alcohol, and in 1991, at the peak of her desperation, Dana famously robbed a video store in Las Vegas with a pellet gun.
She took less than $200 from the cashier, who called 911 claiming: “I’ve just been robbed by the girl who played Kimberly on ‘Diff’rent Strokes.’”
Dana managed to avoid jail time but was given five years of probation, which she violated by forging prescriptions for Valium in 1992. She was sent to jail for 30 days and then entered a drug rehabilitation program.
Dana Plato attends Video Software Dealers Association Convention on July 24, 1994 | Photo: GettyImages
A “NORMAL” CHILDHOOD
In 1995, Dana appeared in the “The Marilyn Kagen Show” as part of a “Former Child Star” special. Todd Bridges was also there.
When asked by Kagen if there was a connection between the lifestyle she led as a child star in Hollywood and the problems she struggled with as a young adult, Plato explained that she was really never part of the “Hollywood scene," saying:
“My mother made sure that I was normal. The only thing that she did, the mistake she made, was that she kept me in a plastic bubble, So, I didn’t learn about reality and life skills.”
Plato explained that her mother feared she would be kidnapped, so she had to come home very early and let her mother know where she was at all times.
Kagen then suggested that maybe Dana’s mother was trying to make sure she was safe because she was her “meal ticket.” Still, Plato denied that possibility, saying that her mom was only very strict because she didn’t want her to become a “primadonna.”
Dana Plato on the Sally Jesse Raphael show, 1991 | Photo: GettyImages
A TRAGIC ENDING
On that TV appearance, Plato stated she had been sober for four years. However, according to some of her friends and family members, Plato had been lying about her sobriety for years, and she always relapsed.
In 1999, one day after an appearance on Howard Stern’s national radio show where callers insulted her and questioned her sobriety, Dana Plato died inside of her motor home while visiting her boyfriend’s parents in Oklahoma.
Her death was initially believed to be an accidental overdose on painkillers but later was ruled as a suicide. She was 34 at the time of her passing.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org
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