Shirley Temple Black, perhaps the most iconic and popular child star in the history of American cinema, died last night of natural causes at her home in Woodside, Calif., her publicist Cheryl Kagan has confirmed. She was 85.
Temple danced and sang her way to stardom across the 1930s in films such as Bright Eyes, The Little Colonel and Curly Top, where the actress’ iconic dimples, curly blonde locks, precociousness and undeniable talent cemented herself as a screen legend before the age of 8. At the height of the Depression, Temple’s popularity was simply incomparable—the actress was the top box-office draw from 1935 to 1938 and created a previously unthinkable merchandizing opportunity that included dolls, china and various clothing items. Her signature song from 1934’s Bright Eyes, “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” sold hundreds of thousands of sheet music copies.
Unlike many child stars to follow her, Temple went on to lead a distinguished life as an adult after retiring from films at the age of 22, acting as an activist and diplomat. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1972 and undergoing a mastectomy to remove the tumor, Temple became one of the first prominent women to rise and speak publicly about breast cancer. In politics, Temple served as U.S. ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, and then again as ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992, amid the fall of the Soviet Union.
“We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and adored wife of fifty-five years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black,” a statement from her family said.