Renowned British poet and Peaky Blinders star, Benjamin Zephaniah, passed away at the age of 65 after bravely battling a brain tumor for eight weeks. His remarkable life journey, from a troubled youth to an acclaimed poet and actor, leaves an indelible mark on the world.
Born in Birmingham on April 15, 1958, Zephaniah’s early years were fraught with challenges. Diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, he left school at just 13, unable to read or write. His path led him into the criminal underworld, spending time in a Borstal and later in prison. Reflecting on his youth, Zephaniah described how he and his gang felt like modern-day Robin Hoods, ‘redistributing wealth’ and frequently clashing with law enforcement.
Despite these early hardships, Zephaniah’s life took a transformative turn, propelling him into the limelight across four decades. His journey encompassed 16 honorary doctorates, appearances on iconic TV shows like EastEnders, The Bill, and the gripping BBC series Peaky Blinders, where he portrayed the character Jeremiah Jesus.
Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy paid tribute to Zephaniah as a “beautiful human being” and a generational talent, highlighting his prowess as a poet, writer, musician, and activist.
Zephaniah was widely recognized for his writings addressing racial injustice and the legacy of the British Empire. He earned the title of Britain’s ‘people’s laureate’ and was celebrated as Nelson Mandela’s favorite poet. Despite his significant contributions to literature, Zephaniah famously declined an OBE in 2003, asserting that accepting it would compromise his anti-empire stance.
In the 1990s, Zephaniah made several TV appearances, including on The Bill, before landing his most notable role in 2013 on the BBC’s Peaky Blinders. Playing Jeremiah Jesus, he added depth to the show’s portrayal of a street gang in a bygone era.
Zephaniah’s influence extended to music collaborations with artists like Sinead O’Connor and Howard Jones, resulting in an album titled ‘Naked’ and ‘Rasta,’ featuring The Wailers’ first recording since Bob Marley’s passing. His work as a children’s poet also left an enduring legacy, with titles such as ‘Talking Turkeys’ and ‘Nature Trail.’
The news of Benjamin Zephaniah’s passing has left a profound void in the literary and artistic world. His family shared their sorrow and described him as a true pioneer and innovator, leaving behind a joyful and fantastic legacy that encompasses a vast body of poems, literature, music, television, and radio.
Zephaniah’s impact extended far beyond his artistic achievements, sparking a wave of heartfelt tributes from friends, colleagues, and fans. His unwavering commitment to his principles and his artistic brilliance will be remembered as a remarkable chapter in British culture and the world of poetry. Benjamin Zephaniah’s legacy is one that will continue to inspire generations to come.