His niece, Emily Atack, confirmed the news on Instagram.
“My wonderful uncle Simon Barnes has been taken from us all so suddenly. The kindest and most talented man you could ever wish to meet. Loved by all who knew him, and will be forever. X,” she wrote.
The British actor took over the role of the purple Teletubby from 1998 to 2001, after original actor Dave Thompson was fired in 1997. Shelton also played the Dark Knight in the children’s game show “Incredible Games.”
“Teletubbies” was an educational television show for young children that focused on four creatures with televisions on their abdomens who played each day in Teletubbyland. In its heyday, the program reached one billion children in more than 120 countries in 45 languages.
In 1999, conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell spoke out against the show, and Shelton’s character in specific, for “modeling the gay lifestyle,” due to the fact that Tinky-Winky carried around a red bag. The original actor was fired after admitting to playing the character as gay. When asked about his own interpretation of the character, Shelton said “People always ask me if Tinky-Winky is gay. But the character is supposed to be a three-year-old so the question is really quite silly.” Since then, the character has be adopted by many as a gay icon.
Shelton’s “Teletubbies” co-star John Simmit, who voiced Dipsy, posted a tribute on Twitter saying, “What a week! RIP Simon Shelton aka Tinky-Winky. Remembering the many good times. Rest easy.”
What a week ! RIP Simon Shelton aka Tinky Winky : remembering the many good times. Rest easy pic.twitter.com/4uyJDBoJdO
— John Simmit (@JohnSimmit) January 22, 2018
Shelton is survived by his wife and three children.