British actor Simon Shelton, best known for playing Tinky Winky in the “Teletubbies,” has died. He was 52.
Shelton — who also went by the name Simon Barnes — starred in the cult BBC children’s show from 1997, taking over the role of the purple character from Dave Thompson. He played the purple character in 1999 when former Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell drew ridicule for his contention that Tinky Winky was a gay Teletubby.
According to the actor’s son Henry, Shelton died on Jan. 17, BBC News reported.
Shelton also played Dark Knight in the “Incredible Games” children’s series from 1994-95.
The news of his death was also shared by his niece, “The Inbetweeners” actress Emily Atack, in an Instagram post.
“My wonderful uncle Simon Barnes has been taken from us all so suddenly” and was “the kindest and most talented man you could ever wish to meet,” she wrote.
The original “Teletubbies” ran on the BBC from 1997 to 2001 and launched a number one single in the U.K. titled “Teletubbies say ‘Eh-oh!'” in December 1997.
But Tinky Winky gained perhaps the most fame from Falwell’s suggestion that Tinky Winky was gay: ”He is purple — the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle — the gay-pride symbol.” He also noted that Tinky Winky carries a bag that resembles a purse.
Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Company, which licensed Teletubbies in the U.S., denied to Agence France-Presse that Tinky Winky was intended as a gay role model, saying the purse was a ”magic bag.”
Shelton is survived by his wife, Emma Robbins, and their three children.
No cause of death has been announced.