Temple, known in private life as Shirley Temple Black, died Monday night at her home near San Francisco. She was surrounded by family members and caregivers, publicist Cheryl Kagan said.
"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," a family statement said. The family would not disclose Temple's cause of death.
For a decade in the 1930s, Temple Black was the biggest little thing to hit the motion picture screen. The actress was America's top box-office draw from 1935 to 1938 - a record no other child star has come near. She beat out such grown-ups as Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford.
There was something about her energy and optimism - something about her golden curls and dimpled smile and twinkling eyes that helped people during the Great Depression forget their problems and become absorbed in her world.
Temple started dancing at 2 and acting at 3. By the time she was 5, she was stealing the show. Before filming a scene, her mother would tell her, "Sparkle, Shirley, sparkle" - and she did.
In 1934, she was awarded a special miniature Oscar for her outstanding contribution to the silver screen.
Temple blossomed into a pretty young woman, but audiences lost interest, and she retired from films at 21.
At 17, she married John Agar, who she starred with in a couple films. She and Agar had a daughter, Susan, in 1948, but she filed for divorce the following year.
She married Black in 1950, and they had two more children, Lori and Charles. That marriage lasted until his death in 2005 at age 86.
Although by the early 1960s, she was retired from the entertainment industry, her interest in politics soon brought her back into the spotlight.
Under the President George H. W. Bush, she served as ambassador to Czechoslovakia and before that, she also served as ambassador to Ghana.
But even in her later years, Temple was most recognized as the quintessential child star.
She was nationwide sensation. Mothers dressed their little girls like her, and a line of dolls was launched that are now highly sought-after collectables. Her immense popularity prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to say that "as long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right."
Her young life was free of the scandals that plagued so many other child stars - parental feuds, drug and alcohol addiction - but Temple at times hinted at a childhood she may have missed out on.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.