The first time Dana came to my immediate attention was just before taping a Sally Jesse Raphael Show in the old days when Sally was taping in New Haven. It was a former kid star line-up with me, Lauren Chapin, Adam Rich, Todd Bridges’ mother, and Dana who was just that month to be seen naked in “Playboy” magazine.
Tim Hovi, Trent Lehman and Rusty Hamer had just died. Adam Rich was walking around with the Big Book from AA under his arm…kinda like the President whom we see walking out of church with his Bible. They hold it, but they don’t believe it.
Just before we taped I was walking past the Women’s bathroom when a harried Dana came busting out the door. She apologized wildly for a collision that was no one’s fault. I took her arm and held her fast. She had the cocaine user’s tell-tale “ring around the collar.”
“Dana,” I said to her. “Wipe your nose.”
In less than ten minutes she was in front of the camera telling everyone she was clean and sober.
Kid actors lie. In their youth they make a living out of lying about their feelings and speaking other people’s words. Lauren Chapin and I, two addicts with long experience, looked at Dana and Adam with a profound sadness. We had been there, too. It was not a pleasant show.
I did then what I would never do now; I confronted Adam. I shouldn’t have done it. My council to him belonged off-stage. Lauren and I both knew what lay ahead for Dana and Adam.
In the limousine taking us to the airport I did my best to destroy the fences Dana had built around herself…a Self she did not know. Lauren and I were not effective in our attempt to bring some light into Betty Bridge’s relationship with her son,l nor were we able to break through to Dana whose runny-nosed denials were, for a pair of old addicts like Lauren and me, as transparent as a pane of glass.
We weren’t as experienced in Interventions back then. Now we are.
Sadly, a great deal of that experience came in dealing with Dana Plato whose rocky roller-coaster of a life was terribly painful for the corp of “A Minor Consideration’s” members.
Dana has been at or near the top of our “Watch List” for all Nine Years of our existence. In every corner of this country, at every memorabilia show, television and radio appearance…at her apartments and our homes we tried and we tried to help. Dana would never commit to us…would never put herself in our care.
“I’m doing great,” she would tell us…over and over again…no matter what the most recent headlines said.
The requests for support were a monthly reality. Depending on the status of our bank account we were, or were not, able to help. It was never cash…and never the kind of help that would score a lethal dose.
We nearly had the corral built. Johnny Whitaker was her Agent/Manager. Brandon Cruz had a special way of talking to Dana.
There wasn’t a member of AMC who wasn’t on the look-out for Dana who was often the subject of whispered discussions at the Ray Courts Hollywood Collector’s Show where, often as not, Dana would fail to show. When you saw her name plate and the empty chair, you knew. In your heart, you knew. When she did show up it was always the same; too hyper, too voluble, and far too thin.
Putting the fence around Dana continued to elude us. Now she is gone for good. God knows the road she traveled, this poor little child. He will not judge her harshly.
Those of us who cared about her despite all her attempts to avoid us will continue to say what we have always said.
“We never give up on a kid actor. Never.”
In the end Dana’s life represented the painful reality of too many people cushioning her fall. No one allowed her to “hit bottom.” She never could admit to herself the reality of her life. And too many people let her get away with it.
If there is to be something positive in the lessons of Dana’s life and death, let it be this:
People on the “outside,” people who have not lived the life…”civilians” as we call them…are not equipped to deal with the masterful deceptions of former kid stars. For God’s sake…for Dana’s sake…when you don’t know what to do with a former child star, call on the only group of people who DO know.
We never say, “I told you so.” We never seek retribution. We do not judge lest we be judged.
We simply help.
But it isn’t “simple” help. How do we explain that you can’t snatch these wounded people away from us time after time, promising them love, or an appearance fee, or yet another “come-back?”
The come-backs are over for Dana Plato who was only hours from yet another appearance with Howard Stern. Our sympathy goes out to her family, especially Tyler who loved her unconditionally.
Please, let this be the last!