Shirley Temple Black, who lifted America's spirits as a bright-eyed, dimpled child movie star during the Great Depression and later became a US diplomat, died yesterday at the age of 85.

Ms Temple Black, who lured millions to the movies in the 1930s, "peacefully passed away" at her California home from natural causes surrounded by her family and caregivers, a family statement 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 of fifty-five years," the statement said. 

Born in 1928, she was married twice and had two daughters and a son.

She went by her married name Shirley Temple Black after her marriage to Charles Black in 1950.

She was previously married to John Agar, whom she divorced in 1949.

Her first appearance on screen was in an uncredited role in 'Runt Page' in 1932.

She also took starring roles in 'The Little Princess', 'Heidi', 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm' and 'Poor Little Rich Girl'.

But her 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'.

The youngster, who was just six at the time, was seen with her hair in ringlets and wearing a checked pinafore dress, and the unforgettable rendition made her one of the biggest box office draws of the era.

Shortly after, she starred in films such as 'Curly Top' and 'The Littlest Rebel', helping the US cope with the depression of the 1930s. 

And she was credited with helping save the film company 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy.

But after retiring from the entertainment world in her early 20s - with an honorary Oscar under her belt when she was six - 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.

Ms Temple Black is survived by her children Susan, Charlie jr, and Lori, granddaughter Teresa and great-granddaughters Lily and Emma.