Shirley Temple Black, one of the first and most beloved child stars ever and U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, died Monday at the age of 85 due to natural causes.
The family released a statement, saying: “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.”
She began her acting career at the tender age of three. Shirley quickly became the top box-office draw in the nation between 1935 and 1938, beating adult colleagues like Bing Crosby as she lifted the struggling country’s spirits in the midst of the Great Depression. In that short span of time, she made over 40 movies, and saved the company that would later become 20th Century Fox studios.
This was all before she turned 12.
So popular was she that not only was a sweet, innocent drink made of ginger ale and grenadine named after her, but children everywhere copied her curly haircut, much the same way tweens copied Justin Bieber’s hair a few years ago.
As the star got older, her appeal began to fade and she hung up her acting career at age 21. She later went on to raise a family and become active in politics.
In 1967, she made an unsuccessful bid as a Republican candidate for Congress. Two years later, Richard Nixon appointed her as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. In 1970s, she became the ambassador to Ghana, and later the U.S. chief of protocol. During the first President Bush’s administration in 1989, she served as an ambassador to Czechoslovakia while communism historically collapsed.
In a 1999 interview with the Associated Press, she said, “My main job (initially) was human rights, trying to keep people like future President Vaclav Havel out of jail.
The American Film Institute ranked the top 50 screen legends in 1999, placing Shirley at number 18 among the 25 actresses. Seven years later in 2006 at an honoring by the Screen Actors Guild, Temple told the audience, “I have one piece of advice for those of you who want to receive the lifetime achievement award. Start early.”
That same evening, though, she acknowledged that the greatest roles she ever played weren’t in her smash hit movies, nor in her political career, but rather as wife, mother, and grandmother. “There’s nothing like real love. Nothing.”