‘Diff’Rent Strokes’ Dana Plato’s Life Went into a Tailspin

“Diff’rent Strokes” Dana Plato’s promising career was tragically cut short owing to the many problems she faced in her personal life. She died bankrupt at 34 in 1999.

Hollywood actress Dana Plato who rose to fame as a child star, was a fan favorite and was well known for the character she played on the hit 1978 sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes.” Although she had started well, things took a tragic turn eventually.

Plato had one of the most devastating lives in the history of Hollywood. It appeared that after her young success, the actress became a troubled soul. But this isn’t the first time child stars have taken the wrong route, endangering their life with unhealthy activities.

Gary Coleman poses for a portrait with co-stars Dana Plato and Todd Bridges while studying on the set of his show ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ in February 1980 in Los Angeles | Photo: Getty Images


Born Dana Michelle Plato in Maywood, California, the actress was introduced to show business at 11 years old. She began acting with her role on “Beyond the Bermuda Triangle” in 1975. She wasn’t a prominent face on TV until she starred in the “Diff’rent Strokes.”

“Diff’rent Strokes” is a hilarious TV drama about Phillip Drummond and his blended family. Drummond is a Manhattan millionaire who adopted Arnold and Willis, the sons of his late housekeeper, Harlem. Plato played Kimberly – Drummond’s 13-year-old daughter – in the series.

Portrait of Dana Plato in 1985 | Photo: Getty Images

The show aired from 1978-1986. However, Plato’s struggles in the movie industry began after the hit series ended, and she started starring in low-budget films. Her activities away from the screen also increased the possibility of losing her job as an actress. 

In 1991, Plato found herself behind bars after robbing a Las Vegas Video store, which placed her on probation. She was arrested the next year again for forging a Valium prescription.

Portrait of actress Dana Plato as Kimberly Drummond for season 3 of TV show “Diff’rent Strokes” | Photo: Getty Images

She had a son, Tyler Edward, with her husband of seven years, Lanny Lambert. After her time with Lambert, Plato found love again with Fred Potts and Scott Atkins, but the relationships didn’t last.

While she was engaged to Robert Menchaca, Plato hoped her stalled career would improve after the interview she and her lover had with Howard Stern in the spring of 1999. But things didn’t work out as planned as 1999 had its surprises for the actress.

Portrait of actress Dana Plato as Kimberly Drummond for season 3 of TV show “Diff’rent Strokes” | Photo: Getty Images


Plato’s career success chances abruptly ended when she died while she was at her fiancé’s parents’ home in Moore. The late actress led a pretty unhealthy lifestyle as she was an alcoholic drug user.  

Following her death, Dr. Larry E. Balding, a deputy medical examiner, said laboratory tests showed fatal concentrations of the painkillers carisoprodol and hydrocodone in Plato’s bloodstream. Medical information also revealed she had seven tablets of carisoprodol in her stomach.

The report initially indicated she died of an accidental overdose. Still, authorities later ruled her death a suicide because of the many drugs discovered in her system and her history of suicide attempts. Plato was 34 when she died.

Dana Plato holds her ‘Youth in Film’ award in the early 1980s | Photo: Getty Images

Plato’s son Tyler’s life sadly turned out to be a tragedy like his mother’s. Reports revealed he died at 25 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He died a few days after his late mother’s 11th postmortal anniversary.

Tyler was only 14 when his mother died. His grandmother Joni Richardson, confirmed he had a very hard time dealing with his mother’s death. She also revealed that the movie star’s only son was an alcohol and drug user.

Dana Plato at the Video Software Dealers Association Convention on July 24, 1994 in Las Vegas | Photo: Getty Images

After his devastating passing, Johnny Whitaker, a former child star who became a drug counselor and is close to the family, opened up about how he tried to help Lambert. Whitaker said during an interview:

“I kept the door open and let him know I would be there. He wasn’t ready to work on it.”

Dana Plato in a scene from TV show “Diff’rent Strokes” | Photo: Getty Images

A friend of the actress’s son also revealed that the young man had “become very withdrawn” three days before his death. The person also noted that he hadn’t spoken to anybody for a day and even confirmed he wanted to be with his mom.

It appeared Lambert remained attached to his mother even though he grew up with his paternal grandmother, Richardson. Whitaker confirmed Lambert was emotionally attached to his mother, who adored him. 

Dana Plato at the 1998 Hollywood Collectors Show in Hollywood, CA. | Photo: GettyImages


Several years after Plato’s tragic passing, her “Diff’rent Strokes” co-star and last surviving star of the hit 1980s sitcom paid tribute to the late actress on what should have been her 55th birthday. He wrote about the actress on social media:

“You were the one person I could always talk to. You were one of my best friends. I will never forget you and love you forever. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Dana Plato R.I.P you are free my friend.”

Dana Plato attends Saturn Awards on October 20, 1994 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California | Photo: Getty Images


It turns out Plato isn’t the only star who started as a child actor and ended up penniless. She was washed up at 26 and living in Las Vegas – an impoverished, alcoholic, and drug user.

Some of her “Diff’rent Strokes” co-stars Todd Bridges and Gary Coleman, also made headlines with their tumultuous lifestyles.

Child actors going bad is no news in Hollywood. Other child actors who didn’t turn out well include Adam Rich, who was arrested for stealing morphine from a pharmacy. Danny Bonaduce’s life was filled with charges ranging from assault to robbery.

Dana Plato at the Sixth Annual People’s Choice Awards on January 24, 1980 in Hollywood | Photo: Getty Images

Lani O’Grady is another who didn’t emerge with more success. He battled addictions to alcohol and drugs. Lisa Loring became a heroin addict and married a porn star. Butch Patrick, Brandon Cruz, and Mike Lookinland also fall in this category of child actors.

Although it seems a lot of young actors find it hard to live a problem-free life after being introduced to show business, there are some whose careers grew stronger as they became teenagers and adults. 

Dana Plato and actors Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges at the 33rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on January 27, 1980 | Photo: Getty Images

Ken Weatherwax, Nicholas Bradford (Rich), and his sister Mary (O’Grady) from “Eight are Enough” also faced struggles with their careers. Still, they somehow managed to stay out of trouble and never made headlines for scandalous acts. 

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