SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Pioneering burlesque star Carol Doda, credited with launching the American topless-dancing scene from a go-go club in San Francisco more than half a century ago, has died aged 78, friends said on Tuesday.
Doda, whose likeness still graces a tall, lighted billboard outside the Condor Club where she performed for over 20 years, succumbed to complications from kidney disease and died on Monday at a San Francisco hospital, according to media reports.
Doda was working as a waitress and go-go dancer at the Condor in the city's North Beach district in 1964 when she first appeared topless, without "pasties" over her nipples, sparking a sensation that was soon emulated in other nightspots.
She was not the first stripper to go completely bare-breasted but the first to do so in a U.S. venue where it was legally sanctioned, according to Condor assistant manager Mike Rickson. He said Doda obtained a special permit from the city to dance topless in addition to a license to serve alcohol.
"She launched the topless craze that swept San Francisco and the nation in the 1960s," historian and author Ernie Beyl told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The newspaper called hers the "the first topless dancing act of widespread note in America." And Doda took the phenomenon a step further in 1972, when she began going bottomless - essentially nude - on stage as well, Rickson said.
As her fame quickly grew, so did her bust line, which she enlarged with silicone injections to ultimately render size-44 breasts popularly referred to as "the new Twin Peaks of San Francisco."
Longtime friend and San Francisco publicist Lee Houskeeper remembered Doda as an "incredible force of nature" who emerged at the dawn of the sexual revolution.
"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," he said.
Famous for making her entrance atop a grand piano lowered from the ceiling, Doda was arrested once, during a police raid on the Condor in 1965, but she was acquitted and continued to dance at the club until quitting in 1985.
She went on to start a rock band, the Lucky Stiffs, and later opened a San Francisco lingerie shop. She also appeared in the 1968 film "Head," featuring the made-for-TV pop music group the Monkees. She played a character named Sally Silicone.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Stephen Coates)