Dana Plato : The Curse of being a Child Star

I must have been in kindergarten when cable TV entered my home. It was probably one of the happiest days of my life. I was thrilled like never before. I now had access to approximately 10 satellite channels including Zee TV, MTV and my most favorite channel then Sony Entertainment Television. I simply loved the content on Sony and it appealed to me the most. The 5.00 p.m. – 8.00 p.m. band was my favorite. It had a line up of 5 American TV shows which included The Ghostbusters, Who’s the Boss, Silver Spoons, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Nanny, and Diff’rent Strokes. As a kid, I was crazy for these shows. Coming from a small town in Jharkhand, these American shows were a sharp contrast to the local surroundings as well as the lifestyle. The American way appealed to me a lot as a kid. I found it to be more fun maybe. Incidentally, all these shows revolved around one or more child actors. Who’s the Boss had Alyssa Milano as Samantha and Danny Pintauro as Jonathan, Silver Spoons had Ricky Schroder as Ricky and Diff’rent Strokes has Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges as Arnold and Willis, respectively, and Dana Plato as their affable sister Kimberly.

All these child actors were a prominent part of the American Pop Culture and were huge stars in themselves. They had attained name, fame, and money at a relatively younger age. It has been seen that most child stars struggle to cope up with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood at their tender age. They are constantly under the limelight and public glare and are incessantly scrutinized when they fail to deliver. One such child star was the Diff’rent Strokes actor Dana Plato.

Dana Plato
Dana Plato

Dana’s Big Break

Dana Plato’s life was difficult from the very beginning. For starters, she had a troubled childhood. She was put up for adoption when she was just seven months old by her birth mother. Then when she was just three, her adoptive parents got divorced and her father moved out. She lived with her mother who started taking her to various auditions for acting roles. She began doing commercials and did hundreds of them before landing her most popular acting role of Kimberly Drummond on the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. The show became a huge hit and Dana, along with her co-stars Coleman and Bridges, became a household name.

Success and fame do not come fast and easy. And when they do they come along with their side effects. The trio of Diff’rent Strokes was embroiled in various controversies throughout their careers. Coleman sued his parents for misappropriation of his wealth and later filed for bankruptcy. On the other hand, Dana and Bridges struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism. They started doing drugs together on the sets of the show when they were just in their early teens. Sooner than later Dana had lost all her control of her life. She was now a reckless teenager who was oblivious of the impending adversities.

The Beginning of the End

Dana Plato became pregnant when she was just 19 and soon married the father of her child. The pregnancy was not welcomed by the makers of her show and her character, Kimberly, was soon written off. The reason behind this could be that her onscreen character was the complete opposite of her real self. Kimberly Drummond was a highly responsible teenager who was extremely protective of her adoptive siblings. She was this ideal daughter who was a complete contrast to the real Dana. Moreover, the makers did not want to take a risk, after all, Different Strokes was a family show watched by a conservative American audience. Dana exited the show at the end of season 6 only to return for guest appearances in the last two seasons.

Dana Plato’s life post Diff’rent Strokes was a complete mess. She failed to achieve any success whatsoever outside her sitcom career. It was then she grew desperate. In a sequence of events, she got her breast implants done, posed for Playboy and then starred in a couple of B-movies. Along with all this, her tryst with addiction continued. Consequently, she got divorced and also lost the custody of her son to her ex-husband. To add to her woes, she was conned by her accountant and was left with no money. Poverty-stricken, she moved to Las Vegas and had to work in a dry cleaning store to make ends meet. Consequently, the extraordinary, has-been sitcom star was now living the life of an ordinary American citizen. But the worse was yet to come.

The Final Blow

On 28th  February 1991, Dana was arrested for robbing a video store. Though the robbery netted only $164, she was convicted and was sentenced a five years’ probation. The incident was seen as a desperate attempt to seek attention and her ploy was successful. She became national news overnight and people began talking about her again. Unfortunately, the fame did not last long and she was arrested again, this time for forging a prescription of Diazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety disorders.  She served 30 days in jail for violating her probation and soon entered a rehab. In the same year, Dana Plato became one of the first celebrities to star in a video game. But, as luck would have it, even that move was criticized and the video game was deemed too violent by the public. As a result, in her quest to reclaim her past glory, she ended up acting in softcore pornographic movies one of which was ironically titled Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill…and Jill(1998).

Soon after the release of the above title, Dana was invited on The Howard Stern Show, which is a popular radio show in America. During her interview with the host, Howard Stern, she was subjected to extreme scrutiny because of her life choices – mainly addiction – by the callers on the show. The criticism had such an impact on Dana, that the very next day she died of a drug overdose, which was later seen as a pre-meditated suicide.

My Top 5 Picks
My Top 5 Picks

Dana Plato died at an early age of just 34. She had everything, fame, money, friends, family, still, she remained troubled all her life. She could never manage her success and her failures well enough to survive in the big bad world of Hollywood. When thousands of kids aspired to be in her shoes, her struggle was an eye-opener that was indicative of the damage early stardom can induce. When in few cases like Todd Bridges, Jodie Sweetin, Macaulay Culkin, Lindsay Lohan etc, the child stars were able to make a comeback, in Dana Plato’s case, unfortunately, stardom turned out to be fatal.

Authored by – Abinash Gupta

(Disclaimer – I do not own the rights to the images displayed on the page. The rights remain with their rightful owners. The images are sourced from various public online sources to provide a reference to Dana Plato.)