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Published: Wednesday February 12, 2014 MYT 6:48:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday February 12, 2014 MYT 6:51:18 AM

Child star icon turned diplomat Shirley Temple dead at 85

Los Angeles (AFP) - Shirley Temple, the child star icon who captured hearts in Depression-era America with her blond ringlets before becoming a US ambassador, has died at the age of 85, her family said Tuesday.

Temple, who started acting at the age of three and shot to stardom with songs including her signature tune "On the Good Ship Lollipop," died of natural causes on Monday night in her California home, surrounded by her family and caregivers.

"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," said a family statement.

Her death triggered an outpouring of tributes on social media and elsewhere.

"The Good Ship Lollypop has sailed today with Shirley Temple aboard a true 1 of a kind," tweeted Oscar-winning actress and television star Whoopi Goldberg.

"We love you .. Love to all the child stars, grown before their times," said actor James Franco, while Mia Farrow tweeted: "Little Shirley Temple raised the spirits of a nation during the Great Depression. RIP."

Delighting audiences with her singing and dancing at a time when money and jobs were scarce, the star of "Curly Top" and "The Little Princess" became, at age six, the youngest person ever to win an Oscar.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt praised her "infectious optimism" and once declared that "as long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right."

She reigned supreme at the box office for three consecutive years, from 1936 to 1938, and starred in more than 40 movies, most of them before the age of 12.

She won a juvenile Academy Award in 1935, and a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2006.

Later in life, Shirley Temple Black, her married name, also served as US ambassador to Ghana and what was then Czechoslovakia, as well as a US delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.

Born April 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, California, Shirley Jane Temple made her debut in "Baby Burlesques" -- short films that parodied the major motion pictures of the day, but in which children played the leading roles.

Several movies followed in the years to come, including "Bright Eyes," which featured her trademark song, "On the Good Ship Lollipop," followed by "Heidi" and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm."

In the 1960s, she took on a new role in politics, serving as a US delegate to the UN General Assembly under then president Richard Nixon. She went on to a career as an ambassador.

In the Ghanaian captal Accra on Tuesday, US envoy Gene A. Cretz voiced condolences for the "child star icon," saying: "I'm confident those Ghanaians she had the privilege of meeting will remember her presence."

In Prague, President Milos Zeman hailed Temple Black "not only as a diplomat but also as a great actress," while ex-president Vaclav Havel's former spokesman Michael Zantovsky recalled her role as communism collapsed.

"She was ambassador in the crucial months in the second half of 1989 and in 1990 when everything changed, and she tried her best to help boost Czech-American relations and the democratic transformation," he said.

She was a recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in 1998, and she was named one of the greatest movie stars of all time by Premiere magazine and Entertainment Weekly.

Former US president George H. W. Bush paid tribute to Temple Black on Tuesday, saying he and his wife Barbara "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," he said in a statement.

"In both roles, she truly lifted people up and earned not only a place in our hearts -- but also our enduring respect."

Late president Ronald Reagan's widow Nancy recalled that Temple appeared with her husband in the 1947 movie "That Hagen Girl."

"Shirley had been a friend to both my husband and I, and we both greatly admired her extraordinary life and many careers," she said.

"She was truly an American icon," she said.

Temple Black is survived by her three children Lori, Charlie and Susan. - AFP

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