In 1977, when Dana was 13, she faced an important crossroads: either compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating team, or star in a new TV sitcom. She chose the latter, and landed her big break in Hollywood playing Kimberly Drummond on the NBC sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. The sitcom – which also starred Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges and Charlotte Rae – launched Plato and her cast-mates to instant stardom. To cope with the pressures of their newly found fame, Plato and her young co-stars began living a hedonistic lifestyle off-set, indulging in pot and cocaine after hours.
After Plato discovered she was pregnant in 1984, the network decided the actress no longer fit their wholesome image. She was released from her contract later that year. Plato married the father of her child, rocker Lanny Lambert, in April of that year.
After the birth of her son, Tyler, Plato had a difficult time establishing a career that separated her from her Diff’rent Strokes image. She appeared in B-movies and video games, eventually agreeing to star in adult films for quick cash. Life took a turn for the worse in 1988, when her mother died the same week that she and her husband split up. In another big blow, Lambert gained legal custody of their son, citing Plato’s addiction to drugs and alcohol.
In a last-ditch attempt to revive her career, Plato hired a new accountant to manage her money and had breast augmentation surgery. She revealed her new, mature image in a 1989 Playboy photo shoot, but no big Hollywood offers came as a result of the magazine spread. Instead, according to Plato, her accountant embezzled the majority of her savings and fled the state, leaving the star with little money and no job leads.