Dana Michelle Plato (November 7, 1964 – May 8, 1999) was an American actress who was notable for having played the role of Kimberly Drummond on the U.S. television sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, from 1978 to 1986. After leaving the cast of Diff’rent Strokes, Plato attempted to establish herself as a working actress, with mixed success: she worked sporadically in made-for-TV movies and in independent films, and did voice-over work. At the age of 34, after years of struggling with poverty and substance abuse, Plato died from an overdose of prescription drugs.
Diff’rent Strokes debuted on NBC in 1978, becoming an immediate hit. The show features Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain), a wealthy white widower in New York City who adopts two black boys after their parents’ deaths. Plato played Kimberly, Drummond’s teenage daughter, who at the start of the show becomes the adoptive sister of the two boys, Willis (Todd Bridges) and Arnold (Gary Coleman). Plato appeared on the show from 1978 until 1984 and again from 1985 to 1986; during her tenure the show appeared on two different networks.
Plato in 1983
During her years on Diff’rent Strokes, Plato struggled with drug and alcohol problems. She admitted to drinking alcohol, and using cannabis and cocaine, and she suffered an overdose of diazepam when she was 14.
On May 7, 1999, the day before she died, Plato appeared on The Howard Stern Show. She spoke about her life, discussing her financial problems and past run-ins with the law. She admitted to being a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, but claimed she had been sober for more than 10 years by that point, and was not using any drugs, with the exception of prescribed painkillers due to the recent extraction of two molars. Many callers insulted her and questioned her sobriety, which provoked a defiant Plato, who offered to take a drug test on the air. Some callers, as well as host Howard Stern, came to Plato’s defense.
The next day, Plato and Menchaca were returning to California and stopped at Menchaca’s mother’s home in Moore, Oklahoma, for a Mother’s Day visit. Plato went to lie down inside her Winnebago motor home parked outside the house, where she died of an overdose of the painkiller Lortab and the muscle-relaxant Soma. Her death was eventually ruled a suicide. Her body was cremated.
Eleven years after Plato’s death, on May 6, 2010, her son Tyler Lambert died at the age of 25 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He had reportedly been experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Johnny Whitaker, Plato’s former manager and a family friend, said that Lambert always said he “wanted to be with Mom.”