Legendary San Francisco stripper Carol Doda Dies at 78

Legendary San Francisco stripper Carol Doda, whose splashy act helped introduce topless entertainment to the city more than 50 years ago, has died at the age of 78. Doda passed away on Monday from complications caused by kidney failure, friend Ron Minolla disclosed Wednesday. Doda first went topless in 1964 at the Condor Club – a move that changed every nightspot on busy Broadway in San Francisco.

During its heyday in the early 1970s, the street in North Beach buzzed with more than two dozen clubs where carnival-like barkers beckoned passers-by to watch bare-breasted dancers. The era spanned some 20 years. Doda later had an acting role in ‘Head,’ a 1968 film featuring the Monkees, and was profiled in Tom Wolfe’s book ‘The Pump House Gang.’ ‘When the (beatniks) were handing the torch to the hippies, a girl named Carol Doda changed the world from a pole at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Broadway,’ her friend Lee Housekeeper said.

Doda, known for her augmented bust, rode on to the stage atop a piano on an elevator platform, debuting her act the same day President Lyndon B. Johnson drew half-a-million people in a visit to San Francisco.It wasn’t long before the big news in town was ‘The Girl on the Piano’.At the height of her fame, Ms. Doda’s breasts were dubbed ‘the New Twin Peaks of San Francisco’.Doda became a legend and the Condor Club had an illuminated sign carrying her likeness.Doda left the club in 1985 and later owned a lingerie store, performed in a rock band, did modeling and comedy, and sang and danced at another club.

Longtime friend Dick Winn told the San Francisco Chronicle that Doda was a ‘wonderfully caring person’ and a good listener always willing to give advice.’She was much more than just dancing,’ Winn said.’For me and my pals Carol will always be one of the boys,’ Housekeeper added.Doda grew up in San Francisco and dropped out of school in the eighth grade. She became a cocktail waitress at 14 and later went on to dance at the Condor.She never married or had children.

‘In a funny way Carol’s impact on the history of that era was as great as Lenny Bruce,’ Housekeeper said.The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Doda’s elegance and big personality brought stripping in to the mainstream culture. ‘She launched the topless craze that swept San Francisco and the nation in the 1960s,’ said Ernie Beyl, a historian and author who recently published the book ‘Sketches from a North Beach Journal,’ with a chapter titled ‘Carol Doda and her Swimsuit.’ ‘It’s invigorating to live in a city where one of the most prominent citizens was a topless dancer,’ Beyl wrote.

Doda performed in the nude until the age of 49 and she was at times even arrested during police raids where police were cracking down on bare-breasted shows.Doda also worked as a spokeswoman for Channel 36 in San Jose and in the 1980s she was frontwoman for her own rock band, the Lucky Stiffs.Doda later opened a store in the Bay Area called Carol Doda’s Champagne and Lace Lingerie Boutique.

File - In this Sept. 21, 1978 file photo, Carol Doda performs at the Condor Theater in San Francisco. Doda, the legendary stripper who jiggled in America's first topless bar more than 50 years ago, has died in San Francisco of complications related to kidney failure, friends confirmed. She died Monday, Nov. 9, 2015 at age 78. (AP Photo/File)

About the author

Asmaa Mubita is a Kenyan journalist of international repute with over fifteen years of experience in broadcast journalism. Asmaa Mubita began his journalism career at the Kenyan state broadcaster (KBC) and later worked at the KTN owned by the Standard Group and Citizen Television, the flagship brand of Royal Media Services. These exploits together with his reporting experience with the Voice of America, CNN and BBC have been rewarded with local and global recognition.