Simon Barnes, ‘Teletubbies’ Actor Who Played Tinky Winky, Suddenly Passes Away

The Teletubbies in England back in 2009.
Ian Gavan / Getty Images

The actor behind the Tinky Winky character from the popular late 90s children’s television show Teletubbies has passed away. Simon Shelton Barnes, who played the much-loved purple character in the BBC show, was only 52-years-old when he suddenly died.

It is yet to be revealed what caused the death of the Tinky Winky actor. Barnes, who was born on January 13, died a mere four days after celebrating his 52nd birthday, as reported by the Sun. He is survived by his wife, Emma Robbins, who is also an actress, and three children.

Simon’s children took to social media to pay tribute to their father. His daughter, Lydia, penned an emotional post on Facebook on January 21.

“I love you so much Dad… always have, always will,” Lydia Barnes wrote. “The most beautiful man in the world.”

“I lost my lovely dad on Wednesday,” wrote Barnes’ son Henry. “He was the kindest and most gentle man I knew and I love him more than anything!!!”

Henry also shared how he felt about having Tinky Winky as his father.

“I always used to be embarrassed as a child that he was a dancer and an actor but now I couldn’t be more proud,” Henry said. “He is in a better place now and I know he wouldn’t want me to be sad, so I’m going to live my life the way he would want me to.”

Simon Shelton was trained as a ballet dancer and choreographer before he embarked on an acting career. His first foray into acting was as Dark Knight in Incredible Games before making his mark as one of the four brightly colored Teletubbies. Aside from Tinky Winky, the other Teletubbies were Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po, played in the original series by John Simmit, Nikky Smedley, and Pui Fan Lee, respectively.

Barnes wasn’t the first to don the famed purple costume. The original Tinky Winky, comedian Dave Thompson, was replaced after Ragdoll Productions, the producers of Teletubbies, thought Thomspon misinterpreted Tinky Winky by implying the character was gay, according to the Daily Mail.

Barnes said that he was often asked about the sexuality of Tinky Winky, who has been thought to be gay because of the character’s fondness for handbags.

“People always asked me if Tinky Winky is gay. But the character is supposed to be a three-year-old so the question is really quite silly.”

Teletubbies first aired in the United Kingdom in 1997 on BBC2 before reaching the United States and Canada in 1998 courtesy of PBS and PBS Kids. The original series of the beloved children’s show lasted until 2001. Teletubbies was shown on PBS Kids until 2008 before it was replaced with Sid the Science Kid. The show was revived in 2015.

Upon learning of the death of Simon Shelton Barnes, some British personalities paid their respects through social media.

Emily Atack, Inbetweeners star and Simon’s niece, shared a black-and-white photo of Barnes on Instagram.

“My wonderful uncle Simon Barnes has been taken away from us all so suddenly,” Atack wrote on the post. “The kindest and most talented man you could ever wish to meet. Loved by all who knew him and will be forever.”

Mike McGear, the brother of Paul McCartney and second cousin of Barnes’ former wife Emma, also shared his thoughts over the Tinky Winky actor’s death.

“So sad to hear about Si,” McGear said. “He was a luvly lad.”

Incidentally, Barnes once compared his experience of being Tinky Winky to the legendary Beatles. He said that being part of Teletubbies was “a bit like the Beatles or Take That of television.”