A look back at the life and career of Shirley Temple Black

(CNN) — During the dark days of the Great Depression, when life was bleak, along came Shirley Temple to win the hearts of the American people.

The perky little girl with cute curls and adorable dimples was just what people needed to lift their spirits.

Decades later, when she was among entertainers given Kennedy Center honors, President Clinton put it this way, “She was seven years old when President Roosevelt asked to meet her, to thank her for the smiling face that helped America through the Great Depression.”

Shirley Temple began her career at age three playing spunky, optimistic characters at a time when the public saw little reason to be hopeful.

Born in Santa Monica, California on April 23, 1928. Her mother claimed her first words were the lyrics to a song.

By age six, she had already appeared in 20 movies, and had been the top box-office star for four years.

But ticket-sales alone don’t begin to describe her popularity.

She was a cover girl.

Girls flocked to buy Shirley Temple dolls… and a non-alcoholic drink was named after her.

Unlike many child stars, she successfully made the transition from her early films to grownup roles.

Next, she switched from life in the public spotlight to life in public service.

In 1967 she made an unsuccessful attempt to run for Congress.

And a couple years later she became a diplomat, served as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations, and ambassador to Ghana and — toward the end of the Cold War — Czechoslovakia.

Her teenage marriage to fellow actor John Agar lasted five years and produced one daughter.

Her second marriage, to businessman Charles Black, lasted until his death in 2005. They had two children.

Commenting on her varied career, President Clinton commented: “She has to be the only person that both saved an entire movie studio from failure and contributed to the fall of communism.”

In 1972 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy.

She was one of the first celebrities to go public with her diagnosis, encouraging women to be examined.

From child star to diplomat to seasoned role model, Shirley Temple Black enjoyed it all.

Late in life she said, “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything.”

Decades after Shirley Temple Black was a star, young girls were auditioning to portray her.

But, while autographing copies of her biography — “Child Star,” she offered this advice: “You shouldn’t try to be Shirley Temple.”

Good advice, yet she needn’t have worried.

Indeed, she was one of a kind.

According to her publicist, Shirley Temple Black has died. She was 85 years old.

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