Las Vegas Sun

December 9, 2021

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Actress Plato dies at age 34

In a 1983 episode of the hit television sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes," then-first lady Nancy Reagan gave a "Just Say No" to drugs message.

Actress Dana Plato, then 18 and playing the role of Kimberly Drummond, apparently did not get the message.

She was arrested for an alcohol-induced video store robbery in Las Vegas in February 1991 and a year later was again in the Clark County Detention Center on charges she used forged prescriptions to obtain 200 Valium pills from a local pharmacy.

On Saturday the 34-year-old actress, who claimed on a national radio show a day earlier that she had been free from drugs for 10 years, died in Moore, Okla. Moore Police Sgt. Scott Singer said Sunday that Plato's death "appears to be an accidental overdose. We don't suspect suicide."

Plato died after apparently taking the painkiller Loritab along with Valium while visiting the home of her fiance's parents.

"It's a shame when someone with so much potential dies so young," said District Attorney Stewart Bell, who as a private attorney in the early 1990s represented Plato and twice won her probation for the crimes to which she pleaded guilty.

"She had a troubled young adulthood but I know that for a while she was drug-free because she was regularly tested while on probation."

Bell said the probation sentences she received from two local District Court judges were fair because the judges "looked at the overall picture and knew she was not a danger to society. She was a woman crying out for help."

Plato, who starred on "Diff'rent Strokes" from 1978-83 on ABC and 1984 on NBC, was arrested in February 1991 shortly after robbing a Las Vegas video store clerk of $160. The incident grabbed national headlines.

Plato pleaded guilty before Judge Stephen Huffaker who, in August 1991, gave her five years' probation. Tears streamed down her face as an apologetic Plato clutched rosary beads and said she hoped others would learn from her mistake.

Five months later she was arrested on the illegal prescription charges, but again dodged prison when Judge Joseph Pavlikowski sentenced Plato to five years' probation in June 1992.

Later she said of her bout with drugs: "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."

Plato and her fiance, Robert Menchacha, 28, had stopped at his parents' home in Moore for Mother's Day.

Plato said that though she had been drug free, she took painkillers when her wisdom teeth were removed four months ago.

Plato has a 14-year-old son, Tyler Lambert of Tulsa, from a previous marriage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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