Carol Doda, who was widely credited with triggering a nationwide topless revolution as a 26-year-old go-go dancer in 1964, died on Monday in San Francisco. She was 78.
Her death was confirmed by the St. Luke’s campus of California Pacific Medical Center. Friends said the cause was complications of kidney failure.
To understand the scandalousness of Doda’s precedent-setting impromptu performance in San Francisco, on June 19, 1964, consider that it was followed less than a month later in that same city by the Republican National Convention that nominated the conservative Barry Goldwater.
Delegates flocked from the Cow Palace convention hall to the Condor Club in the North Beach neighborhood to see her act. As word spread, toplessness became a sensation in clubs and bars across the country.
The San Francisco newspaper columnist Herb Caen characterized Doda as "the Susan B. Anthony of this particular liberating movement."
Doda, a platinum blonde, gained particular attention for injecting her breasts with enough silicone to expand her bra size to 44DD from 34B. The author Tom Wolfe gushed about them in his book "The Pump House Gang."
Earlier this year, Doda told the website babyboomerdaily.com, "I was the first to go topless in 1964 and started a sexual revolution that spun as fast as twirling tassels."
In a 2009 interview, Doda, a former secretary and cocktail waitress, said: "The minute I knew I existed in life was the night I started the Condor thing. The only thing that mattered to me was entertaining people."
She underwent 44 surgical treatments (the number was "just a coincidence," she said) in which emulsified silicone, the chief component of Silly Putty, was injected at a cost of about $12,000 in today’s dollars. The procedure has since been banned, but Doda, who began every day with a bowl of Wheaties, said she suffered no health complications.
Her bust was said to have been insured for $1.5 million.
The Condor was raided, but she was found not guilty of indecency according to community standards. She continued to bare her breasts nightly, eventually earning the equivalent of about $4,000 a week today.
Her example inspired Russ Meyer’s film "Mondo Topless." She appeared (as Sally Silicone) in Bob Rafelson’s movie "Head" (1968), starring the Monkees. Doda went to further extremes, even going bottomless in 1968, until California ruled that women could not perform completely naked in clubs that served alcohol.
Carol Ann Doda was born in Solano County, in Northern California, on Aug. 29, 1937, and raised in San Francisco. Her parents divorced when she was 3.
Doda told interviewers that she had dropped out of school and became a cocktail waitress at 14 before attending the San Francisco Art Institute. She never married, and there was no immediate word on survivors.
She found work singing at the Condor, where she would make a dramatic entrance dancing atop a white grand piano as it was lowered from the ceiling. She made her topless debut after Davey Rosenberg, the club’s publicist, proffered a "monokini" swimsuit by Rudi Gernreich, the avant-garde designer, and suggested, "Try this in the act."
She continued dancing topless into the 1980s.
Doda later started a rock band, the Lucky Stiffs, regularly appeared as a host on local cable television and ran a lingerie boutique in San Francisco.
In 2009, when she was still dancing, fully clothed, at North Beach clubs, Doda told an interviewer, "The only way I’ll stop performing is when I can’t walk anymore, honey."