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Shirley Temple Dead: Former Child Actor, Dancer, U.S. Ambassador Dies At 85

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UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01:  (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of Shirley TEMPLE  (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of Shirley TEMPLE (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

She was the grinning, dimpled face of hope during one of America's darkest periods.

Shirley Temple Black , a former child star, diplomat and American icon, has died of natural causes at 85.

According to a statement issued by her family, she died of natural causes Monday night at her home near San Francisco.

The statement adds, "She was surrounded by her family and caregivers. We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and... our beloved mother, grandmother [and] great-grandmother."

An actress, singer, dancer -- and former U.S. ambassador -- Temple entered show business at the age of three. She first caught the public eye as a five-year-old in 1934's Bright Eyes.

The New York Daily News writes, "she was a superstar before she was 10."

Indeed, the little girl towered over the American film scene exactly when she was most needed -- when the country was in the throes of the Great Depression.

According to the Guardian, by the time she was seven, Temple was earning $50,000 a year. (Adjusted for inflation, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $800,000.)

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Aljean Harmetz recounts her glories as a dimpled, curly-haired child superstar in the New York Times:

From 1935 to 1939 she was the most popular movie star in America, with Clark Gable a distant second. She received more mail than Greta Garbo and was photographed more often than President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As Temple entered adolescence, she saw her popularity ebb until she left the film industry completely in 1949 -- although, as noted at the Internet Movie Database, she starred in several features in the 1940s, including Since You Went Away (1944) and the The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947).

Temple also made brief forays into television in the 1960s before embarking on a career sea-change.

She served as a foreign ambassador and diplomat for four U.S. presidents, her nephew, Richard Black, told The Hollywood Reporter.

"She is like a fresh breeze that has gently blown into our midst," Saudi Arabian Ambassador Jamil Baroody reportedly said in 1969. "After I heard her speak, I realized that Shirley Temple has not rested on her laurels as a child movie star. She has emerged as a sincere activist and an exponent of youth and its aspirations."

Still, her appointment as ambassador to Ghana came under some criticism when it was announced in 1974.

"There are many of us who should be in a position to bring peace to the world. ... Most of the people in Ghana wouldn't know me as an actress. They'd know me for my work at the U.N.," she told the Associated Press at the time.

In her advanced years, Temple kept a low profile.

The Daily Mail wrote she was rarely seen outside of her northern California home -- a sprawling enclave called Woodside.

The American Film Institute lists her at #18 among Hollywood's all-time screen legends.

She leaves behind three children, a granddaughter and two great-granddaughters.

And, of course, the non-alcoholic beverage that was named in her honour, the 'Shirley Temple'.

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