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Tuesday, May 11, 1999 Published at 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK


Diff'rent Strokes star dies

Todd Bridges, Gary Coleman and Dana Plato in 1997

US actress Dana Plato - who starred as Kimberly Drummond in the hit sitcom Diff'rent Strokes - has died following a drug overdose.

The 34-year-old is believed to have taken the painkiller Loritab along with Valium on Saturday while visiting her fiancé's parents in Moore, Oklahoma.

Police are treating it as an accidental overdose rather than suicide.

She starred as the daughter of Mr Drummond in the sitcom, which ran from 1978 to 1986. But in 1991 she was put on five years probation for robbing a Los Angeles video store, and in 1992 was given an additional five years for forging prescriptions for Valium.

She told reporters then: "If I hadn't gotten caught, it could have been the worst thing that happened to me because I could have died of a drug overdose."

The previous day she appeared on controversial broadcaster Howard Stern's radio show in New York, denying the stories of a caller to the show who claimed she was on drugs.

Had been 'off drugs' for 10 years

[ image: Dana Plato as Kimberly Drummond in Diff'rent Strokes in 1985]
Dana Plato as Kimberly Drummond in Diff'rent Strokes in 1985
Plato acknowledged the caller had been a room-mate, but insisted she had been off drugs for 10 years. She added she was having to take painkillers after having her wisdom teeth out four months ago.

Police said she went to take a nap on Saturday afternoon, and after Menchaca realised there was a problem, his mother - who is a nurse - and his brother tried in vain to revive her. Toxicology results are not expected for six weeks.

Plato's death is the latest tragedy to befall the cast of the sitcom.

The show centred on Phil Drummond, a rich white widower played by Conrad Bain, who took in his former housekeeper's two black children, Arnold and Willis - played by Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges - after she died.

In February, Coleman, now 31, was given a suspended jail sentence after pleading no contest in a case where he was accused of hitting an autograph hunter.

The four feet, seven inches (1.37m) tall actor had been working as a security guard at a shopping mall. His growth was stunted by a kidney disorder.

'No curse on the show'

[ image: The show's cast in 1984: Plato, Willis and Coleman hit trouble after it was axed]
The show's cast in 1984: Plato, Willis and Coleman hit trouble after it was axed
Todd Bridges, now 34, was acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon in 1990 following the shooting of a drug dealer in Los Angeles. He now works as a film-maker, and is married with a small son.

He once testified that he became depressed and turned to drugs after the programme was cancelled.

His mother, Betty, said he was "really destroyed" by the news. She added the problems faced by the Diff'rent Strokes cast members stemmed from difficult home lives rather than the pressures of early fame.

"The media portrays it as the kids on the show being cursed. It had nothing to do with that. The show was a very positive experience," she said, adding Plato was also affected by her mother suffering from a serious illness.

Plato's acting career had also sunk. Her recent work included 1992's Bikini Beach Race, and a 1997 soft-porn film called Different Strokes: A Story of Jack and Jill_ and Jill.

She leaves a 14-year-old son, Tyler Lambert, from a previous marriage.

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