"You know, Jill, you remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda and the finest woman that ever lived. Whoever my father was, for an hour or for a month — he must have been a happy man."
This is a sex worker (Prostitute, Stripper, or Porn Star) who is a good person and might become a love interest for a main character. Underneath the sex kitten exterior there's actually a sweet, innocent flower that needs nurturing. If she doesn't get killed off by an angry pimp, you can typically expect her past to either be quickly forgotten or be mentioned/alluded to constantly.
This is particularly true if the character in question is in the "street-walker" category - they are generally the most poor and desperate, have gone through the most embittering experiences, and frequently have debilitating drug addictions that wreak havoc on their looks and their personalities. Not that you can tell, of course, as Hollywood hookers tend to be gorgeous and never suffer from meth bugs or malnutrition.
This trope is Older Than Feudalism, dating all the way back to Aspasianote Who may or may not have been one in real life. with Pericles.
Contrast with the Gold Digger; compare with The High-Class Call Girl and Ethical Slut. In The Wild West, this character is properly called a "Soiled Dove". If she's got a kid, that child will be a Son of a Whore. If Asian, she may also be an Asian Hooker Stereotype.
This trope is only about prostitutes and other professional sex workers. For people who have casual sex for the pleasure of it rather than for money, see instead Good Bad Girl and Ethical Slut. However, the tropes can overlap when it comes to the most benevolent forms of sex work. Both are liable to be against any form of sex work that is exploitative and/or emotionally damaging, but might consider some forms relatively safe and thus approve of them.
Sometimes these women have suffered from the horrors of prostitution, and sometimes even women violently forced into prostitution can fit into this trope. In that case, you might have on your hands a Broken Bird, who needs to be reminded of true kindness and gentility to bring out her golden heart under her bitter exterior.
This is a character type that shows up in a lot of Christian fiction. Can be done extremely well (a la Francine Rivers) or not.
Some may take pity on a protagonist and offer him or her a place in This Bed of Rose's.
In the second episode of the Weiß Kreuz series, Yohji Kudo meets and befriends the prostitute Maki, who betrays her pimp for him and ends up dead because of it. Yohji later kills the pimp both to avenge her and because the pimp was one of the targets of Weiss' original mission; meeting poor Maki just made the pimp seem that much more despicable, so he enjoys it more than he would have otherwise.
In at least the anime version of Samurai Gun, there's Ohana. Forced to work in the local brothel due to a debt racked up by her now-dead parents, she's otherwise a very sweet girl and the girl that Celibate Hero Ichimatsu visits - primarily because she has no qualms about the fact he doesn't want sex from their time together. She also has a crush on him, and he is implied to have a crush on her. Towards the end of the series, the brothel is burned down and she is given work as a waitress at the same restaurant that Ichimatsu does.
Karen Kasumi from X1999. She never becomes a love interest for any of the main characters, though it's strongly hinted that Karen does have feelings for Aoki, but doesn't act on them because he's married (or in the TV series, recently divorced).
According to her backstory, Lalah Sune from Mobile Suit Gundam was a teen prostitute before Char recruited her.
Marida Cruz from Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn also fits this trope perfectly: while initially your usual, stoic character, she turns out to be one of the most fleshed out characters in the story, and offers Banagher insight, advice and even encouragement. In addition, she also cares greatly for her "princess", and her "Master", Suberoa. And when you remember that she's one of the "discarded" Puru clones, she becomes even more tragic.
In Grenadier, Touko Kurenai opens a brothel-complex after retiring as a member of the Ten Heavenly Enlightened. Said red-light-district is a neutral zone which serves as a sanctuary for war-weary warriors and a refuge for survivors of violence, as well as offers redemption for perpetrators of violence who wish to reform themselves.
Helena Montoya from the manga Eden: It's an Endless World! is a complex example. Her relationship with main character Elijah Ballard is part lover, part big sister and despite having a bit of a mean streak at times genuinely cares about him. Notable in that she chooses to be a prostitute of her own free will and continues this during her relationship with Elijah, sometimes literally doing it in front of him, causing Elijah quite some mental anguish.
In a roundabout way, Peorth of Ah! My Goddess; She's a wish-granting goddess who specializes in romantic wishes (both literal and as a euphemism).
Paranoia Agent has a twisted example of a woman who is a prostitute and has a heart of gold... and a split personality, each of which takes only one of these two features.
Amakusa 1637 gives us Kichou aka Kikuhime, the gorgeous mistress of a cruel daimyo who befriends The Heroine Natsuki. She's very much a Nice Girl with some shades of Broken Bird and falls in love with Natsuki's childhood friend Eiji.
Ryuuji's Absurdly Youthful Mother Yasuko in Tora Dora acts like this trope, but like Miko Nakarai she isn't a hooker, just a late night bar hostess — which in some aspects is perceived as pretty much the same in Japan. Aside of that, she's a very kind-hearted person and loves her son a lot.
Yuki, one of the main characters of Acid Town fits neatly into this troupe; At age eleven, the death of Yuki's mother forced him to result to prostitution to feed himself and his baby brother.
Fasalina from GUN×SWORD plays this trope straight and subverts it. She is Affably Evil because of her genuinely kind, calm, soft-spoken, and polite nature, but she also works for the Big Bad to atone for her past as a prostitute by bringing his Assimilation Plot to fruition, making her a rare villainous example/spin on this trope.
Cass and eventually Jeremy from A Cruel God Reigns fall into this troupe. Both boys resort to prostitution to help deal with troubled homes lives and drug addiction (Cass due to his alcoholic, Abusive Parents and Jeremy due to the trauma of Greg's abuse as well as a result of being an orphaned teenager in Boston.) Both boys take care of another young boy, Bon Bon who is so dependent on drugs that he literally cannot function. Daisy also fits into this trope when she tells Jeremy about Greg's doings at the whore hotel and how he said he killed his previous wife.
Stacy-X was a member of the after her brothel was destroyed, and had a rivalry with Husk for Archangel's affections. Sadly, she was Put on a Bus and wasn't mentioned again until House of M some 3 years later, where she lost her powers and was killed shortly after the Decimation.
In Batman: Year One,Frank Miller's reboot of Batman, Selina Kyle (Catwoman) is a prostitute who becomes a costumed criminal. In The Long Halloween, set shortly after Year One, she has given up that lifestyle and used the money she stole to become anti-heroine, member of society, and friend/love interest from Bruce Wayne.
Played straight with Nancy Callahan, who is a stripper with a heart of gold. She was saved from a sadistic pedophiliac serial killer by honest cop John Hartigan when she was a kid. She's friends with at least Marv as well, the violent Conan in a trenchcoat. She's also studying law when she's not working in the bar.
Secret Six had Liana Kerzner, a stripper who works for a club called Superior's. At first Liana appeared to simply be a minor one-shot character, hired to dress as Scandal Savage's dead girlfriend Knockout for Scandal's birthday. Some issues later, Liana runs into Scandal and asks her out on a date. From that point Liana became a prominent supporting character in the series, effortlessly demonstrating that being a stripper and a sex worker didn't make her or her friends as objects for gratification, one-shot jokes, or a shameless deviants. Liana was responsible for bringing some warmth back into Scandal's life, and her interactions with the Six did nothing to dismay Liana's Plucky Girl personality, to the point that she sets up Bane with one of her coworkers. She later ends up being the third in a polygamous marriage between herself, Scandal, and a Back from the Dead Knockout.
Clara from Clara...de noche (Betty by Night or Betty by the hour for the english speakers). She's actually a sweet, good natured girl who happens to be the most envied and desired hooker in her city, with her mandatory sad backstory. That doesn't stop her from being a kind and good natured motherfor her son, make frequent donations to charity, offer discounts or "work" free for down-of-the mill potential customers and being helpful and friendly to everyone.
Most characters in the Hooker!verse, to various extents. The Nostalgia Chick gets this status through her Pet the Dog moments towards the Critic; The Nostalgia Critic because of the sheer terribleness of his situation making him The Woobie by default; Liz for comforting the other characters and being able to not only stay a genuinely nice person but also hold on to a religion despite it all, etc...
Klee in Welcome To The Brothel is definitely this trope. She showed the protagonist enough care, playfulness, and affection to not only make his first time a really good one, but also helped to keep him from going insane from the war.
Klee reprises this role in Relax, which is a followup story. It turns out that she and the protagonist from Welcome To The Brothel have an ongoing relationship. It's really heartwarming.
In the My Little Pony-BioShock crossover, Vision, we know that Zephyr is one of the few nice ponies in the city from her first chapter. In the next chapter we also learn that she's the other half of this trope when Siren walks in on her and Soft-Spoken Sadist Echo.
"You know, Jill, you remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda and the finest woman that ever lived. Whoever my father was, for an hour or for a month — he must have been a happy man."
Ophelia in Trading Places. She explains that she might be a hooker, but she does not use drugs, she does not have a pimp, and at her current pace she will have enough money to retire in five years, which puts her far in advance of many other women, both in and out of her profession. She helps out Winthrope because she feels guilty that she accidently ruined his relationship with his fiancée.
Parodied / lampshaded in the trope-attacking movie Rustlers Rhapsody, when the cowboy breezes into town and the drunk offers to show him how it is, he points out a prostitute. "But I bet she has a heart of gold." "How did you know?"
The stripper Cassidy in The Wrestler. She represents Randy's second chance at living his life outside of the shadow of his former wrestling career. He ultimately spurns her love for a most likely suicidal wrestling match.
V from the Melanie Griffith film Milk Money. Lead one paper to ask, "Will Hollywood ever retire the Hooker With a Heart of Gold? The concept is so ancient, so hackneyed, so ready to be laid to rest, you'd think producers would laugh at any writer who dared to propose it."
Rita (Maya Rudolph) in Idiocracy, though Luke Wilson's character never catches on.
Detective Rogo's wife Linda in the 1970s version of The Poseidon Adventure in which basically he kept arresting her to get her off the street until she agreed to marry him.
I Really Hate My Job: One of the characters is a down-and-out waitress trying to become an actress, someone offers her to star in a porno and she's so desperate that she contemplates becoming this.
My Own Private Idaho: Mike Waters is a prostitute because he is from a disadvantaged background and has narcolepsy, thus ensuring that he can't really have any normal job, as he falls asleep at the most inconvenient times. Many of the other prostitutes are shown to be in the profession by circumstance rather than thinking it's a great job. His friend Scott starts out like this, caring for Mike and making sure he stays safe but then turns into a jerkass and abandons him.
The title character of The Goddess (played by Ruan Lingyu, Chinese movie star of the 1930s) is a woman who engages in prostitution in order to support her young son.
Delilah in Unforgiven is the sweetest and most innocent of the working girls, whose ill treatment at the hands of a gang of bad cowboys is the kick-off point for the movie's plot. A case can also be made for Strawberry Alice fitting this trope, as she's the unofficial leader of the working girls and her prime motivation throughout the film is avenging Delilah and defending the other girls.
Alexandra from Bunraku fits this trope to a tee, as a kind-hearted middle-aged prostitute who realizes she is past her prime and will never have the happy and romantic life she desires. After a young Japanese woman is kidnapped by Alexandra's lover, Alexandra ends up sacrificing her life to save her.
Mike in Magic Mike. All he wants to do is make furniture on a beach somewhere. He also bails out his coworker with his life savings.
Veronica Franco is portrayed as this in Dangerous Beauty; she is also a High-Class Call Girl, since she was, after all, a Venetian courtesan and poetess, although it must be pointed out that she seems to have no sympathy at all for Giulia de Lezze, whose only crime seems to be to have married Marco Venier, Veronica's lover, and to resent it when her husband openly keeps Veronica as his mistress.
Nancy from Oliver Twist. It's only implied in the original, but in the foreword to a later edition, Dickens confirmed that she was in fact a prostitute.
Emily's best friend Martha from David Copperfield is explicitly said to be this. The people of Yarmouth except for the Peggotty family hated her to death because of this, so Emily helped her to leave for London so she won't carry the stigma anymore. Martha later becomes a Chekhov's Gunwoman, helping Daniel and David find the missing Emily..
Grushenka from The Brothers Karamazov is depicted as this for most of the book. It doesn't help that her beauty is such that a man can't really take his eyes off her. But later on, we learn that she's a nice person at heart, not the manipulative slut we'd imagined. Some people would be disappointed by that.
Rosie Palm is shown as a regular seamstress in Night Watch and is depicted as a hard-as-nails woman who isn't exactly too sympathetic to "Keel's" plight. This partially stems from "Keel's" temporal confusion, giving her the honorific 'Mrs.' which only senior members of the profession adopt. In later books when she is Mrs. Palm, and the chairwoman of the Seamstresses' Guild, she's consistently shown as the most sympathetic of the guild leaders.
The SoLid DoVEs in Monstrous Regiment are an aversion, as Polly expects the prostitutes to be this when they're exhausted, abrasive and take advantage of drunks.
Fantine in Les Misérables turns to prostitution as the only available way to support her daughter and herself, in that order. Neither the book nor the world-famous musical takes her occupation lightly: the musical devotes an upbeat musical number to the dehumanizing life of a seaside hooker. The book is still more detailed about it, but then again, the book details everything.
Strip Tease, by Carl Hiaasen, hinges on this trope: Erin Grant becomes a stripper, but only because she has to do something lucrative to pay off her legal fees from trying to get custody of her daughter from her sleazeball ex-husband. She never actually has much of a romance with anybody, let alone being saved by The Power of Love, and she gets the happiest ending of anyone in the book.
The eponymous prostitute/pimp/crime boss from Burning Chrome is a total subversion. Hooker with a heart of steel, indeed.
Angelica Bianca in the Restoration-era comedy The Rover. Angelica was first portrayed by Nell Gwynn, who was a real-life example, going on to become the mistress of Charles II and become his Famous Last Words.
Prostitution is thought of as a fairly prestigious business in many works by Robert A. Heinlein. A skilled Hetaera is usually a very perceptive and emotionally soothing person. The ones noted by name are especially so.
Mercedes Lackey's Bardic Voices: The Lark & the Wren features a cozy, high-class brothel full of these. Arguably justified in that Madam Amber is extremely careful about who she hires.
Two of them in Cloud of Sparrows. Marianne married Stark in a flashback, and his Character Arc is about seeking revenge for her murder. Heiko is a geisha and assassin sent to kill Genji if he ever proves troublesome, but she later decides to let him live.
Miss Audrey in the Liaden Universe. She's a Space Soiled Dove and is one of the most moral and smart people around in her area. Heck, she even runs a school.
In Theories Of Relativity, the 13-year-old girl who is the main character sets his eye on slowly becomes more and more hooker like. As the story progresses, he suspects more and more that she has sexual experiences. All the while, they still stay friends and she makes some stupid decisions which hurt the protagonist. At the end, the protagonist just loses hope on her.
Molly from Neuromancer: Although it's rare, she does show some emotion toward a select few people, and she becomes a love interest for Case.
Pam, from the Tom Clancy book, Without Remorse, is revealed to be a sweet, kind-hearted woman driven into the trade by circumstances. Things go downhill once she leaves her pimp and meets up with John Kelly, though.
Kate from East of Eden is the complete inverse of this trope, the Hooker With A Heart of Pure Malice. Despite having written such a heavy subversion, John Steinbeck loved this trope, and put it to use elsewhere in East of Eden, as well as Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday.
Jude Keller in The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson. An unusual version of the trope as Jude Keller is male.
The Shadowleague books give us Rochalla, who is only a prostitute because she needs to buy medicine for her younger brothers and sisters, all of whom are dying of the plague.
Honoré de Balzac being a 19th century author, loves this trope. In his works, we find Esther in Scenes from a Courtesan's Life, Coralie in Lost Illusions, arguably Marana in The Maranas short story or even the eponymous Girl with the Golden Eyes (though there are otherissues at work there)... Of course, it tends to end badly for the poor girl. Generally speaking, Balzac likes his Good Bad Girls.
This is double subverted in Got, a crime novel by an anonymous author who goes by the letter D. The protagonist has had several (paid) experiences with the prostitute in question, and strongly respects her even though he is aware she does not love him. Then he happens to bring a Briefcase Full of Money to their latest tryst, on his way to deliver it to a crime boss, and of course she can't resist the temptation to steal it. The double subversion comes in that she's not the villain here—she's a reasonably decent person doing everything she can to escape her hellish life, and she's not nearly as evil as the aforementioned crime boss, who wants her dead and that money back no matter what the consequences.
Xaviera Hollander described herself as this in her autobiography The Happy Hooker.
Alma Schmidt (aka "Lorene"), Prewitt's girlfriend in James Jones' From Here to Eternity. (In the film version, this was sanitized by making the character a "hostess" at a nightclub.)
Belle Watling, the madam with a heart of gold, in Gone with the Wind, who always has clear moral insight, strangely enough, and donates generously to the cause. (Other characters of this type named Belle are probably allusions to her.) The authorized sequelRhett Butler's People makes her even more sympathetic by revealing that she fell in love with Rhett and had his child.
Lula from the Stephanie Plum novels...sort of. When she first meets Stephanie, she is, indeed, a ho'; after she's maimed lightly and tied up on Stephanie's fire escape, she opts to leave the sexing life to become a bounty hunter herself. She routinely brings up "back when I was a ho'" as it relates to the current situation. She has kind of a stereotypical "sassy black woman" attitude about her that would conflict less with the trope if she were smarter in general. She's incredibly gung-ho about the idea of being a bounty hunter, but, as a consequence of aforementioned not-that-brightness, she has a tendency to make things worse.
In Death series: Played with. It is played straight with one licensed companion in Purity in Death, but it is made clear that she is still young, shiny, and innocent. Then you have Charles Monroe, who is a male licensed companion who eventually left the profession to become a sex therapist. Some of the prostitutes are portrayed as between good and bad. Interestingly, a number of them have gotten killed off in the series. Some cases can be considered Karma, while other cases can be considered a testament to the dangers of being a prostitute.
In the Naguib Mahfouz novel, The Thief and the Dogs, there's a character named Nur. She's been in love with the main character since before the story began, is sweet, helpful, honest, and is portrayed as a victim swept up in the Anti-Hero's rampage of murder and crime, all the while remaining dogmatically optimistic about her lot in life and determined to overcome it. Oh, and did I mention she's a prostitute?
Trope is very common in novels which deal with adventurous characters, where most prostitutes are treated with uncanny sympathy. James Clavell's Asian Saga springs to mind. Part justified as the usual environment where the characters live (sailors, adventurer merchants, military men on and around the battlefield) has few opportunities to allow people make friends and build relationships outside - if Character X's nearest woman in many miles is a hooker, after some time they will become good friends, for sheer necessity if anything.
The prostitute Boule de Suif in Guy De Maupassant's "Boule de Suif" refuses to sleep with a Prussian officer out of patriotism, but her rich and snobbish traveling companions (who constantly insult her even though she shared food with them! because she's that nice) tell her French soldiers are dying because the officer won't let the nuns continue on to the hospital unless she gives in. So she does. She is pretty much the only moral non-hypocritical character in the story.
In Eva Luna, the main character refers to the girls who work under La Señora as basically this. They're normal, kind-hearted, good-looking, hard-working young women who dote on her via taking her out to the movies and have cake afterwards — it's just that they happen work as High Class Call Girls, and the then-pre-teen Eva doesn't judge them for their occupation.
Ruby in the Colleen McCullough novel The Touch. To the point where she and the wife of the man she's mistress to become the best of friends.
Finnick Odair from The Hunger Games is a rare male example, since he was forced into prostitution by the Capitol.
Averted with Angel in Francine Rivers’s Redeeming Love—she’s so embittered by the constant objectification she’s received during her life as a “soiled dove” that she has become very cold and manipulative. Played straight with a couple of other prostitutes in the same novel, such as Lucky, who, while rather sad and lonely, is also quite compassionate and maternal.
Invoked in 1634: The Baltic War: as a group of mercenary officers are fleeing from probable execution, they decide to see if the intended spouse of one of them, a former prostitute, will hide them.
Patrick: So, here we are in Southwark, about to test a legend. Is there really such a thing as a whore with a heart of gold?
Toni Morrisondeconstructs this trope in her novel The Bluest Eye, which features three prostitutes named China, Poland, and Miss Marie (the last of whom is a Big Beautiful Woman). Morrison explicitly states that they are not Hookers with Hearts of Gold: they hate the men they sleep with and the wives of those men, have no problem with charging their clients, and entered their profession not out of desperation or need, but because they like having sex. However, they're also the only characters in the book who are consistently kind to Pecola, the story's Broken Bird: they let her stay with them, tell her stories, give her presents, and even take her for outings to movies and a carnival.
Live Action TV
In the 1988 Only Fools and Horses Christmas special "Dates", Raquel Turner was introduced as one of these. She wanted to be an actress, but could only get not-real-acting jobs like stripogram or (in her second appearance) magician's assistant. After meeting Del, she gave up this profession after a Stripper/Cop Confusion at Albert's birthday party.
Cassiopeia on Battlestar Galactica (Classic). She may have been called a "Socialator" in the pilot due to Executive Meddling, but we all knew what that meant while it was stated that it was considered a perfectly respectable profession in Colonial High Society. Later episodes show her hanging out with the Galactica's medical staff, and the Novelization of the pilot suggested she retrained as a Nurse, that being more useful than her old profession, which had some first aid knowledge.
Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) subverted this one in "Black Market," in which Lee Adama has been travelling to another ship to see a prostitute and her daughter. It looks like this trope, until it's revealed she was spying on him for a crime boss. After he rescues her from said boss, she tells him that she's done playing replacement family with him to make up for his dead pregnant fiancée. She thinks it's important enough to tell him this immediately, before her daughter is definitely safe and sound.
Laurie, Sam's friend on The West Wing. Lisa Edelstein is believable as a call girl, as opposed to a streetwalker. She's no less convincing as a law student than as a doctor. It's the combination that requires a Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Oddly enough, she shows more cleavage in her role as a doctor than in her role as a call girl.
Subverted to hell and back by Carnivàle's Rita Sue Dreifuss, the hooker with a heart of steel; while not entirely lacking in tender feelings, she verges at times on becoming an Evil Matriarch or female Magnificent Bastard. She also happens to be one of this editor's all-time favorite characters, ever.
One of the early TV protoypes: Gunsmoke's Miss Kitty. Yeah, the show never mentioned what she and the other girls did at the Long Branch. But who couldn't guess? This was a lot more obvious in the original radio version of the show.
The brothel workers in the Australian cable TV series Satisfaction are mostly of this type.
A third-season ep of Veronica Mars involves a client who wants to find a girl he met at a sci-fi con (which he didn't even indulge in)... Who turns out to have been a call girl hired by his friends to provide him with a "date" experience and sex ...who when she's found claims to have fallen for him in turn...and then it gets complicated.
Played for laughs in Saxondale, when an old friend from Tommy's roadie days drags him along to a night on the town and ends up hiring a couple of prostitutes for them both. Tommy ends up sitting next to her on the girl's bed making embarrassed small-talk (he's in a steady relationship) and, much to his bemusement, she ends up giving him some well-meaning advice on how he can take better care of his eyes so that he doesn't need to rely on his glasses as much; turns out she's an optometry student in her day job.
One sketch showed a man falling in love with a prostitute and intends to take her away from all of this, but she shows no interest in it other than saying "Eh, it's your money". Years later, after they are married, and living together in the suburbs with children, the man runs out of cash, and the woman walks out and gets her Pimp (who is by now an old man in a wheelchair) to hassle him. The sketch ends on a Black Comedy note: the man is now asked by his kids when mommy was coming back.
Another parody: a man walks up to the two recurring streetwalker characters in a sketch and tells them he's looking for "a hooker with a heart of gold." He laughs in their faces, but then they tell him: "Oh, you want Wendy. She's three blocks away in front of the donut shop. ...And don't you let her give you a freebie!"
In an episode of House, the patient of the week collapses in her home just as she was about to be pleased by a callgirl. At first the girl plans to just run off with the money, but after a stern look from the woman's cat, she calls an ambulance and ends up sticking by her through the whole ordeal.
In an episode of Arrested Development, Justine Bateman plays a highly paid hooker who Michael (played by her brother, Jason Bateman) mistakes for his long lost sister. He hires her as an accountant due to this misunderstanding, and puts her in charge of a huge amount of money. Michael suggests the fact she doesn't steal it means that she isn't his sister.
Kelly Ball, a character from Channel 4's Shameless fits this trope. She is a better parental figure to Liam Gallagher than any other character.
SNL did a skit called "Lolene" about a hooker who's only nine inches tall played by Tina Fey. She's saving up her earnings to go to Paris, France but she gives it all away to an orphanage that will close down without any money.
Priest: Makes you wonder. How the guy upstairs fit that big heart into that nine inch body!
The character KC Koloski on China Beach might at times seem to be a subversion or aversion of this trope, but with the way she constantly helps the others (even when she seemingly doesn't want to, she does it anyhow), she's actually an embodiment of it.
The Castle episode "Love Me Dead" has a character who seems to be a textbook example. She's actually the villain.
Averted in The Shield. The show includes two major hooker characters, but they brutally depict them suffering from every kind of abuse you can name.
Messed with in Raines, where the victim in the first episode turns out to be a prostitute. Raines' hallucination of her even uses the phrase "whore with a heart of gold", and mocks him for his insistence on seeing her as sympathetic. She ultimately is sympathetic, though.
From a Victoria Wood - As Seen On TV sketch:
"She can't tell red from blue! Once tottered into a brothel thinking it was a police station! ...Oh it was all right, one of the girls came out and helped her pump her tyres up..."
In Community episode The Politics Of Human Sexuality Doreen seems to be a very pleasant, likable and wise woman who offers Jeff some valuable advice. She does dump Pierce and then make him pay to continue the date they'd arranged, but considering this is Pierce we're talking about that's hardly unjustifiable.
An episode of NCIS featured a killer who was going after the clients of a prostitute. The team called in a reformed, high-profile call girl, named Holly Snow, to help with the case.
Nandi, and most of her staff (women and men) in episode appropriately titled episode "Heart of Gold." While Inara was a Companion, one of the highest regarded members of the society, Nandi, who found that life too restrictive, was a "common whore," as Inara mentions, someone who is looked down on by the same society. Because of this, Nandi couldn't expect help from the Alliance and called Inara, an old friend from her Companion days. Inara convinced Mal and company to come to their aid, Jayne especially so when he found out what the "payment" was.
Inara herself counts as well. Cut through all the quasi-religious ritual and she's still a High-Class Call Girl. She's also arguably the most moral member of Serenity's crew alongside Shepherd Book.
Notably, the one who, to her obvious great sorrow, found a dead 11-year-old on a city bench and the one who helped Catherine and DB when they were running from hitmen.
Subverted in one episode when Nick develops feelings for a prostitute. She told him that she was planning on leaving the life and going back to college. Then she is found dead in her home after Nick spent the night there. Nick is nearly charged on suspicion of being her murderer, but Catherine finds the real killer in time. The subversion comes at the very end when Nick confronts her killer. The killer claims that she wasn't going back to college for an education. Instead, she was planning to recruit more girls as prostitutes to start a new career as a pimp. He was her former pimp and he killed her to preemptively remove the competition. He mocks Nick, saying "this isn't Pretty Woman, she's not Julia Roberts, and you're not Richard Gere."
In the Masters Of Horror episode "Imprint", the prostitute Komomo is explicitly described as this. She lingers on to the promise Christopher made to take her away from her hard life. Which makes it all the more tragic that he murdered her in his insanity.
Savannah Sumner of Key West, to the point that she monitored (and cared for) the health of the island's other inhabitants, went out of her way to not embarass the professionals and politicians who were her most regular customers, and would reschedule her date book if one of her friends needed her.
Ga Yeon's unni from Song Of The Cloud who dies of an unnamed disease within the first few chapters; the disease is presumably lung cancer.
In Cab Calloway's famous song "Minnie the Moocher", Minnie is basically this.
"She was the roughest, toughest frail/ But Minnie had a heart as big as a whale."
"Three Wooden Crosses", a country song by Randy Travis, portrays a prostitute as the hero; the single mother of the singer, who survived a Horrible Accident. Ironically, Travis is, more than any other popular country singer, largely associated with gospel music these days.
Hallelujah, a reoccurring character in many albums release by The Hold Steady, swings back and forth between a very sympathetic prostitute and devout Catholic, sometimes at once.
French singer Pierre Perret's song La Pute au Grand Coeur, The Whore with a Heart of Gold. As you do.
Slightly hinted in Laura Branigan's song Gloria. Curiously, this wasn't in the original Italian song (by Umberto Tozzi).
Tom Waits's "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" is, well basically, a Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis. She tries to paint herself as this, talking about how she's turning her life around. In reality it is a subversion, as the hooker is in jail and is writing for bail money.
The Ur Example is Shamhat, the temple courtesan in The Epic of Gilgamesh who "makes a civilized man" out of Enkidu by sleeping with him non-stop for a week. Most of the time, he's grateful to her, although he blames her for his untimely death resulting from his life with Gilgamesh. Notably, temple prostitutes were actually respected religious figures in ancient Uruk.
One translation of the story of Romulus and Remus states that, rather than a she-wolf, the baby boys were found and cared for by a prostitute. This stems from the Latin word lupa, which can refer to either a female wolf or a low-class prostitute.
Rahab, a supposed harlot who lived in Jericho and kept two Hebrew scouts from being discovered by the city guards. This allowed them to return and relay the information to Joshua, which led to the capture of the city. Rahab, for her kindness, was spared by the conquerors. The city of Jericho was pretty much doomed anyway since Joshua and his army had strict orders to level it. Rahab saved herself — and her entire extended family — the only way she could.
The protagonist in the play by Alexandre Dumas, fils Lady Of The Camellias, called Marguerite Gautier in the original and Violetta Valéry when the play is adapted by Verdi into the opera La Traviata. She sacrifices her own happiness so as not to bring her young lover to ruin. A similar plot is used in Puccini's opera La Rondine, where the courtesan Magda gives up the young hunk Ruggero for fear of sullying his reputation.
Kim from Miss Saigon. To be fair, she isn't much of a sex kitten (she's a 17 year old prostitute, an orphan and in desperate need of money); Chris seems to be more attracted to her innocence.
Kitty Duval in The Time Of Your Life. She decidedly doesn't fit the stereotype, and won't let any friendly person call her a whore; her cover story is that she used to be a famous burlesque queen.
Yuka Otowa from Crescendo. Her reasons for her descent into this lifestyle are tragic and sad. You can get the bad ending by being a total bastard (it's heavily implied your protagonist is not that kind of guy anyway, making you the bastard) and sleeping with Yuka solely for sex note via failing her Secret Test of Character where she leads the protagonist to a love hotel to see if he can see beyond her carefree facade, or you can get the good ending by not taking advantage of her (and both of you can laid together of your own free will in much happier circumstances) and redeem her.
Nova in Fallout 3 is the town prostitute in Megaton. Moriarty forces her to do this, and if you kill him, then she will abandon prostitution and co-own his bar with Moriarty's other worker he enslaved via debt.
Joana in Fallout: New Vegas is a Med-X addicted hooker enslaved by the Gommorah Casino. In the quest "Bye Bye Love", you help her kick her addiction and escape from the casino to reunite with her lost lover, Carlitos.
Old Ben is a rare male example (and indeed has a heart of gold, being one of the few characters marked with "Very Good" karma), though he's had various different occupations throughout his life and is retired by the time of the game. He was noted for his charismatic nature and can be recruited as a "Smooth Talker" for the Atomic Wrangler by convincing him that he offers comfort to those who need it.
Lauren from Heavy Rain forces her way into Scott Shelby's investigation of the Origami Killer, despite the danger, to bring her son's killer to justice. If she survives and your other characters don't catch the killer, she succeeds.
The most outward example inn the Fire Emblem franchise is Tethys from The Sacred Stones, who alludes to possible prostitution in addition to learning how to dance alone in some of her support conversations, due to having been abandoned by her parents with her baby brother Ewan.
Not a main character, but a side-quest in The Witcher involves a "Street wise cop, whore with a heart of gold, true love". The chief of the Watch falls in love with a high class prostitute and through their love and the help of Geralt, they break his curse of lycanthropy. It's about the only point of light in the Crapsack World that is The Witcher. Unless of course, you kill him.
Camilla from Zoophobia is a violence-prone stripper who is just a misunderstood girl with a passion for dance, limited by her unfortunate reputation.
Diane in RPG World. Subverted by the eventual discovery that although her class is officially "Harlot," she's never actually done the deed and is in fact rather naive when it comes to sex.
Diana and Paul in College Roomies from Hell!!!!!! are in some ways both examples of this, and subversions of it; while they are both kind and sweet people, they are also enthusiastically sex-positive even when not working (indeed, it sometimes seems they are so sweet because of their lack of hangups), and have no real desire to 'escape' from streetwalking.
The pornstar/director/producer Zig Zag from Sabrina Online is another subversion; she has the required Dark and Troubled Past and heart of gold, but loves her job and takes great pride in the quality of what she produces. Later on she pretty much takes up the role of spiritual mentor to the (comparatively) prudish main character and proves a shameless mothering figure to the other members of her studio. She also guest-stars in a number of other Web Comics.
Not a love interest, but Dominic Deegan has Danika the stripper, whose life is spared by Knight Templar Celesto when he finds out she's a single mother.
Geilen from fantasy comic Garanos is not a love interest for anyone, though it's implied later that she slept with Senberan to get information, and possibly had a relationship with the captive Ethreden, but admitted her profession openly soon after being introduced and doesn't seem especially ashamed of it. Possibly subverted later when she's revealed to be The Mole for Gharsena, but it seems she was only doing it to get the cure for the disease she has, and once she finds out that Gharsena made the disease she turns on her, but sadly suffers Redemption Equals Death.
The Phoenix Requiem has an interesting variation, in that the story begins several years after Petra left her former line of work, and she's just beginning to earn a degree of respect in her new hometown.
Lou Dem Five in Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire is a madame with a heart of gold. No, really, she's quite nice and basically founded what eventually became a franchise for the purpose of making sure the girls got an even break. Her best worker, Sizzlin' Sue is also an example of this.
In Dreamless, the male lead Takashi's friends hire him a prostitute. He is not amused. The woman is very accepting of his explanation that he's not interesting in getting his money's worth, and proves herself to be quite pleasant.
The Platinum Blonde from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe is an android duplicate of Marilyn Monroe. Her builder constructed her and several other androids (all of whom were duplicates of famous, glamorous, and most importantly sexy Hollywood starlets both past and present) in order to rent them out to men who wanted to have sex with a famous actress. Unlike the others, the Platinum Blonde gained true sentience, quit the sex trade, and became a crimefighting superhero. When asked why she chose to do this, her response was a breathy, "It was the right thing to do".
Six of Tripping the Rift is a former sex slave, until a programming upgrade made her too smart and sensible to suit that line of work.
Subverted in The Boondocks, where Granddad dates Cristal, who is obviously a prostitute and Gold Digger, but Granddad refuses to believe it. He is eventually forced to confront it when her pimp shows up. Despite a Crowning Moment Of Awesome / Heartwarming moment where he defends Cristal's (supposed) honor to the pimp, she ultimately chooses to go back with him rather than stay with Granddad, even though he's clearly fallen for her quite hard by this point.
The Simpsons: Although not true, Bart discusses it in "Sweets and Sour Marge" by referring to Erin Brockovitch as "the prostitue with a heart of gold."
Hilariously subverted on the Canadian cartoon Kevin Spencer when Kevin's mother Anastasia leaves her family and is walking through the streets when she meets a wealthy man who thinks she is a prostitute, mostly because she typically works as one. He gives Anastasia this treatment, but she remains as much of a fat, disgusting, alcoholic, lowbrow slob as she ever was and the rich man kicks her out of the house at the end of the episode.
Parodied in the Futurama episode "Hell is Other Robots", there is Hooker-bot 5000, programmed with a heart of solid gold.
Ms. Cartman is the nicest parent on South Park but ends up in German porn and on the cover of Crack Whore magazine.
The Hills take in a woman that turns out to be a hooker, trying to earn her GED and lead a better life, but "fell back into" prostitution because of the money she wasn't making at Strickland Propane. She, after a series of events where Hank "bought" her from her old pimp, became somewhat of a family friend, eventually attending Luanne's wedding.
In DC Showcase: Jonah Hex, the bargirl who provides Jonah information about the murders in exchange for enough money to leave the life. After Jonah rewards her, she thanks him by kissing his cheek. His scarred cheek.
A large number of prostitutes in Germany and the Netherlands come from eastern Europe. They use their pay to support their families back home.
Livy records a story about the Hispala Faecenia, a prostitute who supported her well-born lover Aebutius when his mother and step-father stole his inheritance; when they tried to get him out of the way, she stepped in to save him and ended up being instrumental in suppressing the Bacchanalian Conspiracy in 186 B.C.E.
Empress Theodora of the Eastern Roman Empire.She was originally an actress, and in those times acting involved sexual acts by pretty much default, so she used her good looks as well as her sexual prowess, her brains and her Plucky Girl personality to go up the Byzantine society.
Deconstructed: Samuel Pepys (who preferred to harass his maids and his dependent employees' wives rather than resort to prostitutes) references it in his diary in the 1660s, and wonders if men see whores as being better than they are because it makes them feel less guilty about whoring.
Inverted in Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies, a guide to West End prostitutes that was published annually in the 1760s and 1770s. Time and again the women are said to be in the sex trade because they love sex: the fact that most of them had no other option (and were often forced into prostitution after being raped - at the time, rape victims were seen as disgusting damaged goods who would ruin any man they married) is never mentioned.
A woman named Miljuschka once whored herself into a Nazi camp during World War II, and then blew the whole thing up. More of an Action Girl, and a pretty grim one too.
Grace Lee Whitney was known for her friendly approachable nature, volunteered with the non-profit organization Project New Start, and also helped drug addicts and alchoholics overcome their addictions in her free time.
Wait. Are you saying that Yeoman Rand was a sex worker?
Amanda Barrie writes in her autobiography that as a young woman when she was walking home at night the local prostitutes would look out for her and ensure she was safe.
Former call girl Dr. Brooke Magnanti arguably fits this trope as she now works as a scientist who does research into child health.
When Louis Theroux spent 6 weeks living in a brothel for a documentary he met a sweet-natured prostitute called Emily who financially supported her grandmother, younger siblings and daughter.
Heidi Fleiss was probably considered this by the men she protected by going to prison rather than publicly revealing they were her clients. The call girls she set up health care packages for may also have felt this way.
Courtesan Kitty Fisher who went on to marry money was known for her generosity to the poor.
Coupled with Real Joke Name Australian gold medalist Steven Hooker commented on one of the Fan Nickname involving his accomplishment.
Julia Bunette prostitute/brothel madam turned her brothel into a hospital when local miners got sick and donated money to the Union side of the Civil War
Former child star and former drug addict prostitute Lauren Chapin won awards for her numerous charity work including raising over $2m for underprivileged and abused children and setting up an organisation to help children in the entertainment industry avoid being exploited
After the attack at Pearl Harbor, several prostitutes helped nurses and doctors treating burn victims.
Most real prostitutes fit under this; prostitutes are no different from anyone else.