Shirley Temple retired from acting at the age of 21, two years older than Justin Bieber is right now.
The child star’s fame came at a time without a splintered entertainment landscape or pervasive social media, making her ascent all the more remarkable. It’s one of many reasons Temple, who died Monday at the age of 85, lived such a full, transcendent life.
She reigned as the country’s biggest box office draw from 1935 to 1938, with many crediting her for keeping Americans’ spirits alive during the Great Depression. Songs like The Good Ship Lollipop charmed young and old alike.
She starred in a series of high profile films, including Heidi and The Little Princess, but marital woes and an uncertain box office future convinced her to leave Hollywood at an early age.
Temple’s career shifted anew in 1967 and she unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Republican. Decades later, she would serve the country during the final days of the Cold War.
A year later, President Nixon appointed her a U.S. delegate to the United Nations. She later served as the U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia and as the State Department’s chief of protocol.
The ex-superstar also had an impact on the culture via her own health woes.
In 1972 at age 44, Temple was one of the first public figures to talk about having a mastectomy, paving the way for open discussion of a formerly taboo health subject. “It is my fervent hope that women will not be afraid to go to doctors for diagnosis when they have unusual symptoms,” she said then.
Temple didn’t follow the sad path charted by too many child stars in recent years. Her life was the stuff of movie lore, and her impact on the country will live on as will her beloved songs, features and smile.