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How Did Dana Plato Die? Troubled Child Star Featured In New HBO Documentary 'Showbiz Kids'

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How Did Dana Plato Die? Troubled Child Start Featured In New HBO Documentary 'Showbiz Kids'

If you were a child in the 1980s, you were familiar with Dana Plato. As one of the most popular child stars of the era, she broke through into the mainstream with her role as Kimberly Drummond in the hit television comedy, Diff'rent Strokes (opposite Gary Coleman). But while she was certainly talented, she was equally troubled. And tragically, she died in 1999 at the young age of 34. Her death rocked the entertainment industry, and now, her death is explored in the new HBO documentary, Showbiz Kids, about child stars. 

How did Dana Plato die? 

Her death was initially ruled an accident. 

When Dana Plato initially died, the press was told that she died of an accidental drug overdose. She was visiting her parents in Oklahoma when they found her dead, and they initially thought she died because she accidentally mixed a painkiller and Valium. 

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Her death was later determined to be suicide by drug overdose. 

After an autopsy was performed on Plato, however, her death was ruled a suicide. "Dr. Larry E. Balding, deputy state medical examiner, said Friday that she had fatal concentrations of the muscle relaxant Soma and a generic form of the painkiller Lortab in her body. She also had the equivalent of seven tablets of the muscle relaxant in her stomach," reported the wires at the time, indicating her overdose was deliberate.

On the day before she died, she went on The Howard Stern Show

On May 7, 1999, Plato appeared on The Howard Stern Show in one of the most infamous episodes of the show, which you can see above. On the show, many of Howard's guests called in and questioned whether she was sober, and outside of admitting that she was on prescription painkillers for wisdom teeth extraction, she insisted she was clean and sober. Howard Stern even said that he took a piece of hair from her head to have it tested for drugs but he later said that she took it back after the show stopped taping, so he never knew for sure whether she was really sober.  

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Throughout her life, she was arrested for various drug-related offenses. 

In 1991, Plato was arrested for stealing $164 from a register with a pellet gun. But after that, many of her arrests were for drug-related offenses, including an arrest for possession of Diazepam. She subsequently violated her probation, served 30 days in jail, and was sentenced to rehab. 

In the new HBO documentary Showbiz Kids, her life is seen as a "cautionary tale." 

The HBO documentary Showbiz Kids explores the lives of several "child stars" — some of which are seen as "success stories" and others of which are seen as cautionary tales: Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and yes, Dana Plato. The documentary is directed by Alex Winter, who was a child stage actor, and is best known for playing Ted on Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure opposite Keanu Reeves. 

Plato's co-stars still remember her to this day. 

On what would have been her 55th birthday, Todd Bridges — her co-star on Diff'rent Strokes — took to Twitter to pay tribute to her. Check out his touching tribute below. 

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Bridges also appeared in the documentary Showbiz Kids, and in it he talks about the extensively abhorrent conditions that he and his co-stars toiled under. He said that Coleman had to come back to work only one day after being sick, he reminisced fondly about Dana Plato (calling her a "true friend"), and stated that he'd been molested as a child star. 

Bernadette Giacomazzo is an editor, writer, publicist, and photographer whose work has appeared in Teen Vogue, People, Us Weekly, The Source, XXL, HipHopDX, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, BET.com, and more.