Poet, 'Peaky Blinders' actor Benjamin Zephaniah dies at 65

Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah succumbed to a brain tumor discovered just eight weeks ago and died Thursday at age 65.

Zephaniah's death was announced in a post on his Instagram account, calling him a "titan of British literature." It added: "We shared him with the world and we know many will be shocked and saddened by this news.


Tributes called him a "beautiful human being" and "proud Brummie" who "had a lot more to give."

Zephaniah rose to literary prominence despite humble and difficult beginnings. He left school at 13, dyslexic and unable to read or write. Born and raised in Handsworth, Birmingham, England, he was the son of a Barbadian postman and a Jamaican nurse.

He admitted in a 2005 interview that he had grown up in a violent household and assumed that was the norm.

"I once asked a friend of mine, 'What do you do when your dad beats your mum?' And he went, 'He doesn't,'" he said in the interview.

"I said, 'Ah, you come from one of those, like, feminist houses. So, what do you do when your mum beats your dad?'"


Despite daunting hurdles and obstacles, Zephaniah moved to London at 22 and published his first book, Pen Rhythm.

He also wrote poetry and five children's novels. His first book for younger readers, Talking Turkeys, was a success when it was published in 1994.

"Through an amazing career including a huge body of poems, literature, music, television and radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy," the Instagram statement said.

Beyond his work as a writer, Zephaniah also was an actor and appeared in the BBC drama series Peaky Blinders between 2013 and 2022.

He played Jeremiah "Jimmy" Jesus, appearing in 14 episodes during the series' six seasons.

"Benjamin was a truly gifted and beautiful human being," Peaky Blinders fellow cast member Cillian Murphy said in a statement.

"A generational poet, writer, musician and activist. A proud Brummie and a Peaky Blinder. I'm so saddened by this news."

Zephaniah is also largely credited with popularizing dub poetry that has grown into a musical genre of the same name, and which the writer-actor would later perform with his self-titled band.

"Benjamin was a true pioneer and innovator. He gave the world so much," the statement continued.


Zephaniah was awarded the heralded Order of the British Empire in 2003, which was then bestowed by the queen, but rejected the award because of its association with the British Empire and its history of slavery.

"I've been fighting against empire all my life, fighting against slavery and colonialism all my life," he told The Big Narstie Show in 2020.

"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," he added.

Zephaniah was nominated for autobiography of the year at the National Book Awards for The Life And Rhymes Of Benjamin Zephaniah, which also was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award in 2018.

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