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Celebrated British poet Benjamin Zephaniah has died aged 65.
His passing was confirmed by a post on his Instagram account, eight weeks after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The poet, who was also an actor in BBC drama Peaky Blinders, died this morning with family by his side.
“It is with great sadness and regret that we announce the death of our beloved husband, son and brother in the early hours of this morning, the 7th December 2023,” read the post.
“Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed. We shared him with the world and we known many will be shocked and saddened by this news. Benjamin was a true pioneer and innovator, he gave the world so such.”
Zephaniah was known for his radical and often deeply political poetry, his love for Jamaica, and his powerful and soulful delivery. Born into poverty, he left school in Birmingham aged 13 unable to read or write but used a type-writer to teach himself both skills. At this point he was already performing poetry live, and his unique style helped him become an influential voice in Black politics and identity, leading to meetings with the likes of Nelson Mandela and The Wailers. He was also known for turning down an OBE during Tony Blair’s tenure as Prime Minister, famously writing: “No way, Mr Blair. No way, Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.”
His TV work included UK shows such as The Bill and The Comic Strip Presents… in the 1990s, though it was in 2013 that he landed his best-known role of Jeremiah “Jimmy” Jesus in Steven Knight’s Peaky Blinders. He appeared in the show throughout its nine-year run. He also appeared in Farendj, the Sabine Prenczina film that starred Tim Roth.
In May, we revealed his memoir, Life and The Life And Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah, was being developed into a TV show by Steve Coogan’s BBC-owned indie Baby Cow and Timewasters creator Daniel Lawrence Taylor.
“Through an amazing career, including a huge body of poems, literature, music, television and radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy. Thanks you for the love you have shown, Professor Benjamin Zephaniah,” the Instagram post concluded.