Simon Shelton Barnes, a British actor best known for playing Tinky Winky in the children’s TV show Teletubbies, has died. He was 52.
Barnes portrayed the character between 1998-2001 after the firing of original actor Dave Thompson.
Family members and costars took to social media to pay tribute to the actor, who The Independent reports was a trained ballet dancer and choreographer before taking on the role of the purple Teletubby known for carrying a magic bag.
Barnes’ niece and The Inbetweeners actress Emily Atack paid tribute to him on Instagram with a black-and-white headshot.
“My wonderful uncle Simon Barnes has been taken from us all so suddenly,” she wrote. “The kindest and most talented man you could ever wish to meet. Loved by all who knew him, and will be forever.”
The Teletubbies‘ official Twitter page also honoured Barnes.
“Very sad to hear that actor Simon Shelton, who played Tinky Winky in the late 90’s, has sadly passed away,” they captioned a scene from the show. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends. Big hugs.”
John Simmit, who appeared alongside Barnes as green Teletubby Dipsy, also remembered his costar on Twitter.
“What a week! RIP Simon Shelton aka Tinky Winky: remembering the many good times,” he said. “Rest easy.”
In response to a tweet, Simmit added, “Lots of messaging between cast & crew as we became a tight bunch over 6 years on location. We’ll give him an appropriate send off in a couple of weeks.”
Speaking to the BBC in 2008, Barnes said he had no idea that the children’s show would turn out to be such a hit.
He shared, “I didn’t know it would be as big as it was, but I did know as soon as I started working on it that it had something special.”
Barnes also disputed rumours that Tinky Winky was gay, saying, “People always ask me if Tinky Winky is gay. But the character is supposed to be a 3-year-old so the question is really quite silly,” according to The Guardian.
Barnes was father to three children, The Independent reports.
This article originally appeared on PEOPLE.