Jody Gibson was seemingly just another aspiring pop singer in Hollywood when a 25ft billboard was posted on Sunset Boulevard in 1992. Adorned with her smiling face, it announced “Babydol … coming soon”.

The woman in question did indeed find the fame she was seeking. Yet rather than miming to hit singles on MTV, she featured on newsreels across the world in 1999 after her arrest on suspicion of running an elite prostitution ring that employed porn stars, state beauty queens and Playboy models.

All smiles. Gibson in the 1980s.

From thereon a number of male Hollywood actors and producers, not to mention politicians and businessmen, would squirm every time their names were mentioned during her trial as being in Gibson’s “trick book” detailing services rendered, for whom and payments made.

Most of them, including the actors Bruce Willis, the Top Gun producer Don Simpson, the baseball coach Tommy Lasorda and the Texas politician Ben Barnes, claimed never to have met or even heard of Gibson. Some of them threatened to sue if their names were published in connection with the service that was known as California Dreamin’. None did.

The only celebrity not to deny a connection was Steve Jones, the Sex Pistols guitarist turned Los Angeles DJ, who with characteristic insouciance said it was “quite possible” that he had used her services. “I crossed paths with her back then,” he recalled.

Gibson’s client list was said to number more than 1,000. Perhaps the most prominent among them, she claimed in her book, was the Sultan of Brunei; she said that some of her girls returned from an assignment for him with $1 million in suitcases. Gibson’s cut would be $400,000. A more ordinary assignation might set a client back $3,000. The price would rise as various kinks were introduced. A night with a Playboy centerfold might cost $15,000. She insisted that the fantasies she sold were not all about sex. “I had many clients that paid money just to have them there. Just to look at a pretty face,” she said.

Looking for a ride?

Gibson was proud of the fact that once she started her agency in 1986 she never solicited clients, and claimed that she merely took a cut for making “introductions”. She boasted that with “my 38C bust and lustrous bleached blonde tresses in the style of Kim Basinger” there would have been no shortage of demand had she “entered service” herself, but she remained strictly a madam, going by the name Sasha of the Valley.

Gibson’s client list was said to number more than 1,000. Perhaps the most prominent among them, she claimed in her book, was the Sultan of Brunei; she said that some of her girls returned from an assignment for him with $1 million in suitcases.

There was no advertising. Prospective clients had to be referred by an existing one and were then “checked out”. “I would decide whether or not to return the call,” Gibson said. “There were no creepy guys.”

Gibson invested much of her substantial profit into her dream of becoming a pop idol, paying for recording sessions, making promos and regularly undergoing cosmetic surgery. At the height of her money-making operation she was known to hand out cash to the homeless on the city’s “Skid Row” and built up a menagerie of rescued dogs, cats, ducks and even a miniature pot-bellied pig. As Babydol she released several singles. Success was moderate at best; “Good Girls Go to Heaven but Bad Girls Go Everywhere” was a hit in Thailand. She made several TV appearances and had a role in a low budget horror film called Evil Laugh.

Among the girls who came to work for her more illicit enterprise was Heidi Fleiss, who would later build up one of the most notorious prostitution rings in Hollywood. The pair did not get on. “She came to work for me in 1990, but she didn’t quite have the look my clientele wanted and she went out on her own in 1991,” said Gibson, recalling her version of events.

By that time, the Los Angeles Police Department had launched a full-scale investigation of Hollywood vice and scored a coup in 1993 with the arrest of Fleiss, whose reported clientele included the actor Charlie Sheen. The net could also have closed on Gibson but she claimed to have remained open for business for another four years because she was having an affair with an LAPD detective who was investigating the case. Gibson was finally arrested in 1999 after a sting operation collected the evidence required.

She largely failed to take advice to “dial down” the figure-hugging outfits she wore during her trial in 2000, at which she was convicted of “pimping”. She was sentenced to three years in prison and served nearly two. “I ended up in a 20x20 room with seven murderers doing life, which was no accident,” she said, going on to claim that she was assaulted and had her front teeth knocked out and her skull fractured. “My English was too formal, I was heterosexual, didn’t do drugs, and had no idea of how to handle the perilous hell I was subjected to.”

Gibson claimed that friends, clients and former business associates deserted her, but she exacted revenge of sorts and gained a new income by publishing a memoir in 2007, Secrets of a Hollywood Super Madam, in which she named more alleged clients from Hollywood.

Apart from salacious chapters devoted to her clients’ tastes, she attempted to justify why the world’s oldest profession should be fully legal and asked, “Why do the guys never get busted?” She also admitted to moral scruples about servicing men who were married, but did not demur for long. “The way I surmised it was that it was if I have a pizza place do I not sell pizza to the guy who’s cheating on his wife.”

Gibson in 2000, when she was being prosecuted on charges of running a prostitution ring in Beverly Hills.

Jody Gibson was born in 1957 and grew up in Westchester County, New York state. Her father was a CBS radio announcer in the 1940s who then ran a successful clothing business. Her mother, Tobe Gibson, was an agent for child actors who discovered Tom Cruise and managed him until his breakthrough film Risky Business (1983).

After her parents separated, Jody lived with her mother on the Upper East Side in Manhattan; Cruise, who was from New Jersey, would often sleep on the living-room sofa so that he could attend early morning auditions.

Her sister, Amy Gibson, would become an Emmy award-winning actress, and her aunt Georgia Gibbs was a successful recording artist in the Fifties. Feeling overshadowed, Jody moved to California in 1984 determined to make it as a singer.

After four years and slim pickings she started a modeling agency with a view to financing her recording career. The agency quickly evolved into an escort business when some of her models began asking her if she knew any “sugar daddies”. After making an introduction, one of her models arrived outside her apartment in a Mercedes SL. “I thought, I think I should start charging 10 percent like my manager mother did,” Gibson said.

Gibson, who is survived by her third husband Eric Markel, would cheerfully own her notoriety in later years. “It was not an easy task,” she said. “If it were that easy everyone would be doing it.”

Jody “Babydol” Gibson, Hollywood madam, was born in 1957. She died of undisclosed causes on January 2, 2022, aged 64