On the death of Tinky Winky and the headlines of our lives

Especially if you’re in the news business, as you get on in life, you start to consider what the headline will be on your obituary. I’ve written in the past in this space a number of times about the newspaper — either the Argus Leader or Worthington Globe, I forget which — that made a specialty out of pithy obit headlines that seemed to trivialize a person’s life, yet allowed us to notice the departed once existed — “she loved her fax machine” or “purple was his favorite color” are the two I recall most.

And yet, this headline from the Associated Press this morning took me aback.

No doubt, being Tinky Winky, once the target of Jerry Falwell’s campaign against gays (the first actor to play Tinky Winky was fired because he played the character too ‘gay’, apparently), made a good living for Simon Shelton Barnes, who froze to death in the street at 52. He loved the role, the Daily Mirror says. There’s certainly no reason to apologize for having it.

But a hazard of making a living in popular culture is that when you go, your life’s achievement is Tinky Winky. Even your name is excluded from the headline.

His name was Simon Shelton Barnes. He was a dancer.

He was an actor of widely different characters, shown here as Dr. Choake in the BBC’s Poldark alongside Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark.

He was, his daughter said, “the most beautiful man in the world.”

“I’m gobsmacked at losing him. He was charming and handsome and delicate and so lovely to be around. He wasn’t difficult, he was pleasurable and a delicate man,” his apartment mate told the Daily Mail.

“If you’re famous everybody knows your face – but they didn’t know his face, but he had a big time of it, and it worked. And he had a good living from it,” she said.

Upon hearing the news of his death, the company that developed Teletubbies posted that it was sending “Tubby hugs.”