Shirley Temple, the adorable, curly-haired child who was a top box-office film star in the 1930s, has died at her home in California, her family said in a statement. She was 85.
Publicist Cheryl Kagan said Temple, known in private life as Shirley Temple Black, died Monday surrounded by family at her home near San Francisco.
A talented singer, dancer and actress, Shirley Temple was America's top box-office draw from 1935 — the year she turned 7 — until 1938, helping lift the spirits of Depression-era Americans with a pert, endearing spunk marked by her ringlet hair, dimples and precociousness.
One of Hollywood's first true child superstars, Temple was credited with helping save film studio20th Century Fox from bankruptcy with films such as Curly Top and The Littlest Rebel.
"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 for fifty-five years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black," the family statement said.
The family statement said that the star known as "America's Little Darling" died from natural causes at 10:57 p.m. Pacific standard time on Monday. She had recently begun hospice care, according to her nephew, Richard Black.
Bright Eyes endeared Temple's early relationship with fans when the 1934 film featured her singing On the Good Ship Lollipop. Buoyed by her success, Twentieth Century-Fox soon had 19 writers, known as the Shirley Temple Story Development team, create original stories and adapt classics for her. She eventually appeared in about 40 films, including four memorable features with legendary African-American entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.
"People in the Depression wanted something to cheer them up, and they fell in love with a dog, Rin Tin Tin, and a little girl," she frequently said of her early childhood success.
Black's film career began as a 3-year-old. She had her first hit with 1934's Bright Eyes, followed by Curly Top and Heidi. She became one of the earliest stars to parlay screen success into a merchandising bonanza, with top-selling doll and clothing lines.
By the time she was 6, she was earning $1,000 a week and receiving 16,000 fan letters a month, with some of her films doing bigger box office than Clark Gable.
As she grew into her teens, her box-office success began to fade. She returned to the entertainment industry on TV, starring in a two-season anthology show from 1958 to 1960, then making guest appearances on TV in the early 1960s.
Temple blossomed into a pretty young woman, but audiences lost interest, and she retired from films at 21. She raised a family and later became active in politics and held several diplomatic posts during four Republican administrations.
In 1999, the American Film Institute ranking of the top 50 screen legends ranked Temple at No. 18 among the 25 actresses.
"I have one piece of advice for those of you who want to receive the lifetime achievement award. Start early," she quipped in 2006 as she was honored by the Screen Actors Guild.
For a time, she was a director on the boards of Walt Disney and Del Monte Foods. She also became deeply immersed in Republican politics. In 1967, she ran against California Rep. Pet McCloskey on a platform that supported America's growing military involvement in Vietnam.
She had hoped to follow the political success of George Murphy, her co-star in Little Miss Broadway who had become a U.S. Senator, and Ronald Reagan, her That Hagen Girl co-star, who had become California's governor. But Temple lost the 11th Congressional race to the more moderate McCloskey.
In 1969 she was appointed a United Nations delegate by President Nixon and in 1974, was named U.S. Ambassador to Ghana. She later served as Ambassador toCzechoslovakia.
In Child Star, a telling 1988 autobiography, Temple discounted several long-standing myths, including one that she had made a fortune from her films. But Temple disclosed that although she had earned millions, much had been lost due to the poor financial advice her father, a bank manager, had received.
At 18, she married Army Air Corps Sergeant John Agar Jr. They were divorced four years later, in 1949, a year after the birth of their daughter, Susan. At 21, she married Charles Alden Black after a 12-day courtship. Black, an assistant to the head of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, claimed he had never seen one of Temple's films.
The couple's marriage lasted nearly 55 years until his death in 2005. The couple had a son, Charles Alden Jr., born in 1952, and daughter Lori Alden, born in 1954.