Benjamin Zephaniah, “Peaky Blinders” Actor and British Poet, Dead at 65

“Benjamin was a truly gifted and beautiful human being – a generational poet, writer, musician and activist," said 'Peaky Blinders' star Cillian Murphy

<p>David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty </p> Benjamin Zephaniah photographed in London on July 13, 2022

David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty

Benjamin Zephaniah photographed in London on July 13, 2022

Benjamin Zephaniah, a renowned British author and poet who also appeared on the television series Peaky Blinders, died Thursday at the age of 65.

The announcement of Zephaniah’s death came from his official Instagram account. According to the posting, Zephaniah was diagnosed with a brain tumor eight weeks ago.

“Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed,” per Instagram. “We shared him with the world and we know many will be shocked and saddened by this news. Benjamin was a true pioneer and innovator, he gave the world so much. Through an amazing career including a huge body of poems, literature, music, television and radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy."

According to the BBC, Zephaniah was born in Birmingham, England, to a father who was a Barbadian postman and a mother who was a Jamaican nurse. Zephaniah had dyslexia and had ended his schooling by the time he was 13.

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“His poetry is strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and what he calls ‘street politics,' ” according to a biography on his website. “His first real public performance was in church when he was 10 years old, by the time he was 15 he had developed a strong following in his hometown of Handsworth where he had gained a reputation as a young poet who was capable of speaking on local and international issues.”

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At age 22, he moved to London and published his first book of poetry, Pen RhythmThe Guardian reported. Since then, he has put out 13 more poetry books, seven plays and seven albums, CNNadded.

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Zephaniah’s works were responses to historical and current events, The Guardian noted, and he was credited with bringing dub poetry to the British mainstream.

“The mission was to take poetry everywhere, he hated the dead image that academia and the establishment had given poetry and proclaimed that he was out to popularise poetry by reaching people who did not read books, those that were keen on books could now witness a book coming to life on the stage,” read his biography.

In an excerpt from his poem, “We Refugees,” Zephaniah wrote:

I am told I have no country now

I am told I am a lie

I am told that modern history books

May forget my name.

In 2003, Zephaniah declined to accept the honor of the Order of the British Empire. In an interview 17 years later with The Big Narstie Show, he explained, per the BBC: "I've been fighting against empire all my life, fighting against slavery and colonialism all my life. I've been writing to connect with people, not to impress governments and monarchy. Could I then accept an honor that puts the word Empire on to my name? That would be hypocritical.”

Zephaniah further heightened his profile as an actor when he appeared on the popular television series Peaky Blinders as Jeremiah “Jimmy” Jesus for 14 episodes.

Upon the announcement of his death, several notable personalities have paid tribute to Zephaniah, including Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy, who said, per The Guardian:  “Benjamin was a truly gifted and beautiful human being – a generational poet, writer, musician and activist. A proud Brummie and a Peaky Blinder.”

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On X (formerly known as Twitter), British singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading wrote, "I am in shock.  Benjamin Zephaniah has died age 65.  What a thoughtful, kind and caring man he was. The world has lost a poet, an intellectual and a cultural revolutionary. I have lost a great friend.  RIP Benjamin."

Jeremy Corbyn, a member of Britain’s Parliament, posted: “Extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Benjamin Zephaniah. A devoted friend of the marginalised and dispossessed. A beacon of hope. An inspiration. What a terrible loss to the world — but what a beautiful, powerful and eternal legacy.”

“So sad to hear about the death of poet Benjamin Zephaniah. A great man and a trailblazer,” shared Diane Abbott, another member of Parliament. 

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