Benjamin Zephaniah dead: Peaky Blinders star and poet dies aged 65 just eight weeks after brain cancer diagnosis

POET and Peaky Blinders star Benjamin Zephaniah has died aged 65 – with his devastated family sharing emotional tributes.

Zephaniah’s death was announced in a statement posted on his Instagram account.


Benjamin Zephaniah has died at the age of 65Credit: PA
Zephaniah (second from the right) playing Jeramiah Jesus in Peaky Blinders


Zephaniah (second from the right) playing Jeramiah Jesus in Peaky BlindersCredit: BBC
Zephaniah with the show's star character Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy)


Zephaniah with the show’s star character Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy)
Zephaniah accepting an honorary degree from the University of Hull in 2018


Zephaniah accepting an honorary degree from the University of Hull in 2018Credit: Alamy

His family said that he died by his wife’s side after an eight-week battle with brain cancer.

A much-loved poet, Zephaniah also played the street preacher Jeremiah Jesus in six series of Peaky Blinders between 2013 and 2022.

It read: “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.

“Benjamin was diagnosed with a brain tumour eight weeks ago.

“Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed.

“We shared him with the world and we know many will be shocked and saddened by this news.

The family added: “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.

“Thank you for the love you have shown Professor Benjamin Zephaniah.”

Fellow poet Michael Rosen said: “The tragic terrible news has come to me that Benjamin Zephaniah’s family have announced that Benjamin has died.

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“I’m devastated. I admired him, respected him, learnt from him, loved him.

“Love and condolences to the family and to all who loved him too.”

Aston Villa said it was “deeply saddened by news of the passing of legendary writer and poet, Benjamin Zephaniah”.

Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah was born in the Handsworth area of Birmingham in 1958.

His father was a Barbadian postman, and his mother was a Jamaican nurse.

A dyslexic, Zephaniah left school at the age of 13 unable to read and write – but went on to become one of modern Britain’s most famous poets.

He revealed that he was inspired to become a writer when he was gifted an old manual typewriter.

Zephaniah published many collections of poetry as well as five novels and seven plays.

He was known for performing innovative “dub poetry” to reggae beats and for his political campaigning.

In 2008 he was ranked one of Britain’s top 50 post-war writers by The Times.

His autobiography The Life And Rhymes Of Benjamin Zephaniah was nominated for the Costa Book Award in 2018.

As well as his Peaky Blinders role, Zephaniah appeared on The Bill and was a panellist on QI in 2020.

The proud Brummie told the Birmingham Mail: “In Peaky Blinders I’m called Jeremiah Jesus.

“The real character was known to everybody as Jimmy Jesus.

“He was a slightly off-his-head character who went round the streets of Birmingham preaching hell and damnfire.

“The day we started filming, and the second day and third day it was like ‘Is this going to work?’

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“Are people going to get this, a gangster thing set in Birmingham?

“I was the only one from Birmingham approached for the first series of Peaky Blinders.

“When they approached me, I said ‘It’s so good to have something from Birmingham’.”


The writer started performing in public when he was a teen, but didn’t have his first book published until 1980, when he was in his 20s.

This was after he got into trouble with the law, and quit Birmingham for London to change his life.

It was there he took adult education classes and found out he was dyslexic.

Zephaniah said: “When I first learned to read and write it was because I wanted to read my contract and not get ripped off.

“At that point I was really into reggae poetry and rap poetry.

“I thought all other poetry was written by dead white men talking about daffodils then someone showed me Shelley and I was like wow.

“And then there was Burns, he was using rhythm, like the rapper of his day, using the language of everyday people.

“Then I saw the connections and realised that poetry and novels are people trying to speak their truth.”

He added: “Everybody has their personal journey and it’s very difficult to think about what would have happened if I was someone else.

“Sometimes people will say, ‘you left school at 13, got into trouble with police and then had success, isn’t that wonderful?’

“And I say ‘should we take your kids out of school and put them in prison?’

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“The truth is only a handful of people come out the other end like I did.

“I went to adult education classes and it was there I found out I was dyslexic. I still struggle and have word blocks.

“But I know, because of the work I do in prisons and young offenders institutes, that young people who can’t read and write can’t access jobs as easily as others because they can’t write the forms or organise themselves.

“One of the reasons I get involved is because I want to inspire people.”

Categories: Optical Illusion

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