Dana Plato: The Sad, Tragic Tale of the "Diff'rent Strokes" Star

Herbie J Pilato

Photo byTheyHavePassed.blogspot.com

The classic TV sitcom, Diff'rent Strokes, originally aired on NBC from 1978 to 1986. In the process, then-child actors Dana Plato, Todd Bridges, and Gary Coleman became television superstars.

The show also starred Conrad Bain (from TV's Maude) as Plato's biological TV father, who adopted the two young brothers played by Bridges and Coleman. After the series ended, all three of the young stars struggled to find their way in the world. Bridges struggled with substance abuse problems, Coleman had personal and financial issues, and Plato would deal with a multitude of problems.

According to People Magazine, Plato battled drug abuse for years and was arrested in 1991 for robbing a video store at gunpoint. (The video store clerk famously told the 911 dispatcher, “I’ve just been robbed by the girl who played Kimberly on Diff’rent Strokes.”) She died of a drug overdose — later ruled a suicide — on May 8, 1999. Her demise came one day after she professed to be clean during an interview with Howard Stern.

As documented on IMDB.com, in 1999, Plato decided to do an interview on Howard Stern's radio show (which is posted on YouTube.com) in hopes of reviving her dying career.

The New York Post reported how Plato told Stern that she was sober and off drugs. Although the interview began well, and as chronicled on PopDust.com, Plato was soon confronted with abusive calls from listeners who believed she was under the influence.

The atmosphere in Stern's studio soon turned intense, with Plato on the defense.

As Grunge.com documented, Stern asked Plato if she would take a drug test, and for a sample of her hair. "Plato agreed but the hair was never tested. A day after the interview, on May 8, 1999, 34-year-old Plato died. She was found in her RV while visiting family in Oklahoma.

The Associated Press reported that she had overdosed on a painkiller and valium. Due to her prior suicidal tendencies and the high level of drugs in her system, her death was ruled a suicide.

As Today.com would later reveal, Plato's son, Tyler, would also commit suicide days before the 11th anniversary of his mother's death in 2010. 

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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