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Dana Plato; Overdose Kills Troubled Actress

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dana Plato, troubled young actress best remembered as the teenage Kimberly Drummond of television’s long-running series “Diff’rent Strokes,” has died of an apparently accidental drug overdose. She was 34.

Plato died Saturday after taking the painkiller Loritab along with Valium in Moore, Okla., where she was visiting the parents of her fiance, Robert Menchaca. Police there said the death “appears to be an accidental overdose.”

The couple were en route to Los Angeles after the actress appeared on Howard Stern’s radio program in New York to refute claims that she was illegally taking drugs. She told Stern she needed painkillers because she had recently had her wisdom teeth extracted.

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An actress from age 6, Plato appeared in hundreds of commercials and films in her childhood.

But she hit her stride in “Diff’rent Strokes” as Conrad Bain’s small-screen 13-year-old daughter in the accidental household that included his two adopted black sons, actors Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges. Plato appeared on the show from its inception in 1978 until 1984 when her character moved to Paris to study.

Like co-stars Coleman and Bridges, Plato had many legal problems that marred her subsequent career.

She earned two five-year probation sentences after pleading guilty in 1991 to robbing a Las Vegas video store of $160 and to forging a Valium prescription in 1992.

Plato also conceded she suffered from alcoholism in the late 1980s.

“Three years of nonstop drinking,” she recalled for one interviewer in 1992. “I didn’t care for drugs much, I just wanted my alcohol.”

Plato posed for a nude pictorial layout in Playboy magazine in 1989.

In recent years, Plato appeared in such low-budget films as the 1997 direct-to-video effort “Different Strokes: A Story of Jack and Jill . . . and Jill,” and in small theaters and dinner theaters. Among her live performances were roles in “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” in Canada in 1995, and in “Frankie and Angie Get Married” in Las Vegas and Atlanta in 1993. Her first professional work after drug and alcohol treatment was a Las Vegas stage revue in 1992.

Plato is survived by her 14-year-old son, Tyler Lambert, of Tulsa, Okla.


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