Temple, known in private life as Shirley Temple Black, died surrounded by family at her home near San Francisco, publicist Cheryl Kagan said.
A talented singer, dancer and actress, Temple was America's top box-office draw from 1935 - the year she turned seven - until 1938.
She was credited with helping save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy with films such as Curly Top and The Littlest Rebel.
She retired from films at 21 and later became active in politics. She held several diplomatic posts, including ambassador to Czechoslovakia in the late 1980s.