circa 1955: Headshot studio portrait of American actor Shirley Temple, in front of a green backdrop, wearing a short sleeve white blouse with a colored bows pattern and a pearl necklace. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Shirley Temple Black dies at 85
02:50 - Source: CNN

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

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

People we lost in 2014

CNN’s Jo Shelley contributed to this report.