Teletubbies’ Tinky Winky Actor Died From Alcohol Intoxication, Hypothermia

By Bryan Le 04/09/18

The 53-year-old actor had a medical history of alcohol dependence, according to the coroner.

Simon Shelton Barnes, dancer and choreographer, played Tinky Winky on the Teletubbies.
Simon Shelton Barnes had fans worldwide, young and old. Photo via Instagram and Teletubbies.

Actor Simon Shelton Barnes, who delighted many children as Tinky Winky on Teletubbies, was found dead on a side street in Liverpool, England.

Authorities ruled the cause of death to be hypothermia along with high levels of alcohol in his blood. He was 53 years old.

From 1998 to 2001, Barnes played the tall, purple, most prominent member of the Teletubbies crew, Tinky Winky, who was known for his gentle affectation and red handbag.

However, in January, Barnes was found to have “frozen to death” near the Liverpool waterfront. Coroner Anita Bhardwaj said Barnes had a medical history of alcohol dependence.

“On January 17 at 07.15 hours, Simon was found deceased at the Port of Liverpool Building in a well between the building and street,” Bhardwaj said, according to The Sun. “Toxicological analysis found a high concentration of alcohol. The temperature on the day was three degrees and it is more likely than not the combination of the alcohol consumed and the temperature caused his death.”

Barnes was a trained dancer and choreographer who was dealing with being separated from his three children.

“I think he had finished his time as a choreographer because of injury and age and he was looking for a new direction,” said close friend and former roommate Jane Rees. “He came up to Liverpool to have a fresh start and think about a new career.”

Barnes was at first reluctant to take on the role of Tinky Winky after the original actor was fired, but once the fanmail from children as well as adults began flowing in, he said he felt like a “member of the Beatles.”

Fame also brought unexpected attention. His character, being a male who was purple, carried a red handbag and had an upside-down triangle on his head, became a lightning rod for gay politics. The show's creators, however, officially say that Tinky Winky is neither a gay icon nor a covert representative for a gay agenda.

“Tinky Winky is simply a sweet, technological baby with a magic bag,” said Ken Viselman of Itsy-Bitsy Entertainment. “He's not gay. He's not straight. He's just a character in a children's series.”

But despite whatever his character represented to cultural critics, politicians and his fans, those close to Barnes remember him fondly. Teletubbies co-star Nikky Smedley, who plays Laa-Laa on the show, said he was “always smiling” and a “family man.”

“He was an absolute professional and a fantastic dancer. He was always incredibly good company,” Smedley remembered. “He was kind to everyone and always had a smile on his face. I can't remember him ever being angry or tired.”

His children also paid tribute to him on social media.

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

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter