The actress's face and voice are imprinted on generations of people around the world as a result of her performance of the song On The Good Ship Lollipop in the film Bright Eyes in 1934, at the age of six.
The youngster - angelic but assured with her hair in ringlets and wearing a checked pinafore dress - captured the hearts of cinemagoers and became one of the biggest box office draws of the era.
She was given an honorary Oscar at six, and went on to star in films such as Curly Top and The Littlest Rebel, helping the US cope with the depression of the 1930s. She was also credited with helping save the film company 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy.
She died peacefully from natural causes at her home in California, her family said.
Among those paying tribute to her today was Whoopi Goldberg, who said: "The Good Ship Lollipop has sailed today with Shirley Temple aboard - a true one of a kind."
Actress Olivia Munn said: "The world is so much brighter because you were in it."
After retiring from the entertainment world in her early 20s, she carved out a role as a distinguished diplomat, serving as the US ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.
Ms Temple Black was also a delegate to several international commissions and was involved with the United Nations. She was the first woman to serve as US chief of protocol in the Department of State.
Her public service saw her on the advisory council and board of directors for numerous organisations involved with anything from criminal justice to health charities or wildlife bodies. She also sat on the board of directors for the Bank Of California and the Walt Disney Company.
Her family released a statement saying: "We announce with great sadness that ambassador Shirley Temple Black, former Hollywood child star and forever 'America's little darling', peacefully passed away at her Woodside, California, home from natural causes.
"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 55 years of the late and much-missed Charles Alden Black."
She is survived by her children Susan, Charlie and Lori, granddaughter Teresa and great-granddaughters Lily and Emma.
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