Benjamin Zephaniah, the Birmingham-born writer and poet who was also known for starring in Peaky Blinders, has died at the age of 65.


Zephaniah, the son of a Barbadian postman and a Jamaican nurse, was influenced by the music and poetry of the Caribbean in his own works, for which he was included in The Times list of Britain's top 50 post-war writers in 2008.

As well as being a poet, writer and activist, he was also known for his TV appearances, including on panel shows such as QI.

He also acted in episodes of The Bill and EastEnders, and had a major role across all six seasons of Peaky Blinders, playing Jeremiah Jesus.

A message posted to his account on Twitter, which has recently been re-branded as X, announced the news of his death, saying: "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. Benjamin was diagnosed with a brain tumour 8 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. 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."

Zephaniah was born on 15 April 1958 and was diagnosed with dyslexia at an early age. He left school at 13 without being able to read or write, but was given a typewriter in childhood which inspired him to become a writer.

His first book of poetry was published in 1980, and he went on to write many more poetry books, novels and plays.

As an activist, he spoke extensively about the racism he faced and worked with anti-racism organisations such as Newham Monitoring Project. He publicly rejected an OBE in 2003, calling himself "profoundly anti-empire".

Benjamin Zephaniah plays Jeremiah Jesus in Peaky Blinders
Benjamin Zephaniah as Jeremiah Jesus in Peaky Blinders. BBC

Amongst those paying tribute to Zephaniah following his death was The Black British Book Festival, which posted: "We're deeply saddened by the loss of Benjamin Zephaniah, a pioneering Dub Poet and Author whose energy, vibe, and unapologetic work paved the way for Black British Writers.

"We're forever grateful for his contributions and commitment. He’s legacy will live on forever."

Meanwhile, Bridgerton star Adjoa Andoh wrote: "We have lost a Titan today. Benjamin Zephaniah. Beautiful Poet, Professor, OBE, Advocate for love and humanity in all things. Heartbroken. Rest In Your Power - our brother [Benjamin Zephaniah]."


Author Michael Rosen said: "The tragic terrible news has come to me that Benjamin Zephaniah's family have announced that Benjamin has died. 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."