She was instantly recognisable thanks to her head of curly hair, and dimpled cheeks.
Her publicist Cheryl Kagan told the Associated Press that Shirley, known in her private life as Shirley Temple Black, died surrounded by family at her house in Woodside, California, near San Francisco.
She "peacefully passed away" at her home from natural causes on Monday evening.
"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 of fifty-five years," the statement from her family said.
The actress lifted the spirits of Americans during the Great Depression.
She was signed to 20th Century Fox in 1934, for a seven-year contract that saw her paid $150 a week.
Some of her most famous films include Stand Up and Cheer, and Bright Eyes.
Her rendition of the song On The Good Ship Lollipop, from Bright Eyes, is still an iconic moment in cinema history and became Shirley's trademark tune.
In later years she went on to become a US diplomat.
"I have no trouble being taken seriously as a woman and a diplomat here. My only problems have been with Americans who, in the beginning, refused to believe I had grown up since my movies," she said after her appointment as US ambassador to Ghana in 1974.
Shirley was honoured with a Life Achievement award in 2006, at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
"I have one piece of advice for those of you who want to receive the lifetime achievement award. Start early," she laughed when she collected the accolade.
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