Skip to main content

Famed former child actress Shirley Temple dies

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 2:12 PM EST, Tue February 11, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Shirley Temple was arguably the most famous child star in Hollywood history
  • She died of natural causes at her California home surrounded by family and caregivers
  • She was a major box-office star during the Great Depression
  • She retired from acting in 1950 and later became a U.S. diplomat

(CNN) -- Shirley Temple Black, who rose to fame as arguably the most popular child star in Hollywood history, died late Monday night, her publicist said.

She was 85.

Temple Black, who also enjoyed a long career as a diplomat, died of natural causes at her Woodside, California, home. She was surrounded by family and caregivers, a statement from Cheryl Kagan said.

She began acting at age 3 and became a massive box-office draw before turning 10, commanding a then-unheard of salary of $50,000 per movie.

Her first film of notice was in 1932 when she played in "War Babies," part of the "Baby Burlesks" series of short films.

Appreciation: Shirley Temple, the model child star

Shirley Temple Black dies at 85
Hollywood child star Shirley Temple, who became diplomat Shirley Temple Black, died late February 10 of natural causes in her Woodside, California, home. She was 85. Above, Temple poses for a photograph in the 1930s. Hollywood child star Shirley Temple, who became diplomat Shirley Temple Black, died late February 10 of natural causes in her Woodside, California, home. She was 85. Above, Temple poses for a photograph in the 1930s.
Shirley Temple Black
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
>
>>
Shirley Temple Black Shirley Temple Black
Click through to see people who passed away in 2014. Click through to see people who passed away in 2014.
People we lost in 2014
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: People we lost in 2014 Photos: People we lost in 2014

For about 18 years, she sang, tap-danced and acted her way into the hearts of millions. Her corkscrew curls were popular with little girls from the 1930s through the 1970s.

Early years

Her star shone brightest as a toddler, and 20th Century Fox cranked out a series of feature films with the adorable, talented little girl. Her hits included "Little Miss Marker" (1934), "Curly Top" (1935) and "The Littlest Rebel" (1935).

At the box office, she beat out the great adult stars of her day, such as Clark Gable and Bing Crosby. Her popularity spawned a large array of merchandizing items, such as dolls, hats and dresses.

She was the top box-office star four years in a row, from 1935 to 1938. Her career was at its peak as the country was suffering the effects of the Great Depression, and her films offered uplifting moments.

But as she got older, the pace of movies slowed, and by 1939, her popularity was fading. She and 20th Century Fox terminated her contract early in 1940, just before she reached her teenage years.

Share your memories of Shirley Temple Black

U.S. diplomat

She retired from filmmaking at 22 and married Charles Black, changing her last name from Temple to Temple Black.

But she did not fade from the public eye.

She embarked on a new career as a foreign diplomat: She served in the U.S. delegation to the United Nations from 1969 to 1974 was U.S. ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, and U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who appointed her to the Czechoslovakia post, said Tuesday that he and his wife "mourn the loss of an American icon."

"She captured the affections of millions around the world by her endearing performances on the silver screen as a young girl, but I also admired Shirley for her selfless service to our country later in her life," Bush said in a statement released by his spokesman. "In both roles, she truly lifted people up and earned not only a place in our hearts -- but also our enduring respect.

"Barbara and I send our condolences to Shirley's family and countless fans around the world."

A statement from Temple Black's family members said they "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."

Enduring icon

She remained a cultural icon for decades after stepping down from the silver screen.

In 1958, she made a comeback as an entertainer, this time on television, in an hourlong show, "Shirley Temple's Storybook."

She later received two lifetime achievement awards for her performing career.

In 1972, Temple Black successfully battled breast cancer.

Funeral arrangements are pending. A remembrance guest book will be set up online at shirleytemple.com.

People we lost in 2014

CNN's Jo Shelley contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:46 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Click through our gallery to remember those we lost this year.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Ben Bradlee, the charismatic Washington Post editor who guided the paper through the era of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, has died. He was 93.
updated 2:19 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Legendary fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, who spent half a century putting high society in haute couture, has died. He was 82.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam (right) in Sydney with former Labor Party leader Kim Beazley. Whitlam, one of the nation's most admired figures who led the country through a period of massive change, died on October 21, 2014, aged 98, his family said.
Edward Gough Whitlam, the former Australian Prime Minister who strengthened ties abroad, has died.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Singer and model Joanne Borgella, an "American Idol" contestant in 2008, died at age 32 after a battle with cancer.
updated 1:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
"August: Osage County" actress Misty Upham was declared dead by a Washington coroner after her body was found along a river in suburban Seattle.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Actress Elizabeth Peña has died of natural causes after a brief illness. She was 55.
updated 8:19 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Isaiah "Ikey" Owens, the keyboardist in Jack White's backing band, has died at age 38. The musician also played with bands such as Mars Volta and Free Moral Agents.
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Mark Bell, who founded the highly influential techno music duo LFO and later collaborated with Bjork on several iconic albums, has died.
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Actress and comedian Jan Hooks died in New York. She was 57
updated 7:29 AM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Geoffrey Holder, a versatile artist known for his ability as a dancer, actor and -- most famously to most of America -- a pitchman for 7Up, has died at age 84.
updated 10:58 PM EDT, Sun October 5, 2014
Paul Revere, leader of the 1960s rock band Paul Revere and the Raiders, has died at age 76.
updated 8:03 PM EDT, Sat October 4, 2014
Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier died of a heart attack in Port-au-Prince at the age of 63, a family member told CNN.
updated 11:42 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
Former U.S. Rep. James Traficant of Ohio died after suffering injuries in an earlier accident on his farm.
updated 11:36 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Eric "The Actor" Lynch, who became a celebrity among celebrities by calling in to Howard Stern's radio show, died at age 39.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
Emmy-winning actress Polly Bergen, whose TV and movie career spanned more than six decades, has died at age 84.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Singer George Hamilton IV died at a Nashville hospital following a heart attack. He was 77.
updated 11:30 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Northern Ireland's former first minister and former Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley has died. He was 88.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Richard Kiel, the actor best known for playing the James Bond villain "Jaws," died at age 74 in a California hospital.
updated 4:56 PM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Actress Molly Glynn, who played an emergency room doctor on several "Chicago Fire" episodes, died from injuries after a tree fell on her during a storm.
ADVERTISEMENT