At the age of 7, Shirley Temple was the biggest movie star in the world. Thanks to her adorable head of curls, plucky attitude and considerable tap dancing chops, hers was the most familiar face in the world to Depression-era moviegoers. In just six years, Temple made 35 films. Then, at 21, she gave it all up.
On Monday, Shirley Temple Black died at the age of 85 in her home near San Francisco.
She’s perhaps best known for films like Heidi and Bright Eyes, but Temple’s second act was just as interesting as her first. After retiring, Temple refused to be banished to obscurity. In 1967 she ran for Congress and lost. Then, in 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed her a representative to the United Nations. She would go on to serve as ambassador to both Ghana and Checkoslovakia.
In 1972, Temple (by then Shirley Temple Black after marrying her second husband Charles Alden Black in 1950) discovered a lump on her breast and underwent a mastectomy. She became one of the first women to speak publicly about breast cancer and the importance of early detection.
Temple was born in 1928 in Santa Monica, California. She’d learned to tap dance by the age of 3. She was soon discovered by a scout and placed in several films. Eventually she ended up at Twentieth-Century Fox where she cranked out hits like Poor Little Rich Girl, Dimples, Stowaway and The Little Colonel. It was during that last film that she danced on a staircase alongside Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. That scene — as well as “On The Good Ship Lollipop” from Bright Eyes — is one of Temple’s most enduring on-screen moments.
Temple is survived by her three children.