Actor Simon Barnes, Tinky Winky in 'Teletubbies', dies at 52

LONDON — British actor Simon Shelton Barnes, who played Tinky Winky in the children's television series "Teletubbies," has died. He was 52.

The Liverpool Coroner's Office said Thursday it is investigating the death of Barnes, whose body was found in the northwestern English city on Jan. 17. Police say the death is not suspicious, and have referred it to the coroner to determine the cause.

Barnes played one of four gentle, brightly colored characters in the toddler-centric show between 1998 and 2001. "Teletubbies" became such a global hit that Barnes once called it The Beatles of children's television.

It became the surprising subject of controversy in 1999 when a newspaper published by evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell said Tinky Winky's purple color, triangle antenna and handbag indicated the character was gay.

The BBC, which broadcast the show, said at the time that "as far as we are concerned Tinky Winky is simply a sweet, technological baby with a magic bag."

"Teletubbies" producer Ragdoll Productions tweeted that Barnes was "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."

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