actor who played tinky winky dead at 52

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‘Teletubbies’ actor Simon Shelton dead at age 52

Simon Shelton played the purple Teletubby from 1997 to 2001.


Audra Schroeder


Published Jan 23, 2018   Updated May 22, 2021, 3:41 am CDT

Simon Shelton, the actor who played Tinky Winky on Teletubbies, has died at age 52.

Shelton, who embodied the purple Teletubby on the BBC show from 1997 to 2001, reportedly passed away on Jan. 17. His niece, who stars in the U.K. series The Inbetweeners, posted a tribute on Instagram and said he was taken “so suddenly.”

Shelton, also known as Simon Shelton Barnes, nabbed the Tinky Winky role after Dave Thompson was fired in 1997 for his “interpretation” of the character. Shelton weathered controversial times, too. In 1999, Evangelical leader Jerry Falwell wrote about Tinky Winky in National Liberty Journal, claiming the character’s color is a “gay-pride color” and that its triangle-shaped antenna is a “gay-pride symbol.”

“People always ask me if Tinky Winky is gay,” Barnes said. “But the character is supposed to be a 3-year-old so the question is really quite silly.”

Teletubbies survived in the internet age, most notably as an unconventional template for subversive mashups. But its influence snuck into other parts of pop culture, too.

The show’s original producer, Ragdoll Productions, said in a statement: “We will always remember Simon Shelton. He was such a joy to work with, which was clear from the fun and energy that came through the screen, in all of his performances as Tinky Winky.”

A cause of death has not yet been confirmed. Shelton is survived by three children.


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*First Published: Jan 23, 2018, 2:27 pm CST