• Benjamin Zephaniah has died at 65
  • He was an actor, poet an activist
  • Audiences know him best from 'Peaky Blinders'

The world of literature and entertainment mourns the loss of a colossal figure, Benjamin Zephaniah, whose untimely death has left fans and peers alike in a state of shock. The beloved writer, poet, and 'Peaky Blinders' actor breathed his last in the early hours of Thursday, leaving behind a legacy that transcended the boundaries of art and activism.

Zephaniah died after being diagnosed with a brain tumor eight weeks ago, as a post on his Instagram page stated.

Benjamin inspired everyone around him

"Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed,” the post read. "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."

Zephaniah, a "titan of British literature," was not just a man of words but a beacon of hope and inspiration. His journey from the streets of Handsworth, Birmingham, to the hearts of millions worldwide is a testament to his indomitable spirit. Despite leaving school at 13, unable to read or write, Zephaniah's passion for poetry and storytelling knew no bounds.

Zephaniah was born April 1958 in Handsworth, Birmingham, which he thought of as a cold suburb of Kingston, Jamaica. He began performing poetry locally in his early teenage years. He had dyslexia, and he left school aged 14.

His first book, 'Pen Rhythm,' catapulted him into the limelight, but it was his dub poetry that resonated with the masses, bringing the Jamaican style into British living rooms. With a career that spanned decades, Zephaniah's works, including five novels and children's poetry, have left an indelible mark on the cultural fabric of the nation.

He began performing at demonstrations, youth gatherings and outside police stations. "I was a big protester, not just against racism but also apartheid. We are a multicultural society but the institutions have to catch up with us," he said in 2019.

Benjamin also released a number of albums, and was the first person to record with the Wailers after the death of Bob Marley in a tribute to Nelson Mandela. Mandela heard the tribute while in prison, and later asked to meet Zephaniah.

Comedian Lucy Beaumont has shared a "fan email" she received from Zephaniah in 2020. The poet emailed the 'Taskmaster' star, who is married to fellow comic Jon Richardson, declaring himself a fan but admitting that he had no idea whether Beaumont’s ditzy on-stage personality was a "joke" or not.

"I just can’t tell if you’re joking or not," he wrote. "I was with some friends, who asked me if you were joking or not, and I said, I don’t know, and Lucy said she doesn’t even know."

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'Peaky Blinders' co-star Cillian Murphy paid tribute, calling Zephaniah "a truly gifted and beautiful human being... a generational poet, writer, musician, and activist." His rejection of an OBE in 2003 further cemented his reputation as a man of principle, unwilling to compromise his values for accolades.

"Benjamin was a truly gifted and beautiful human being – a generational poet, writer, musician and activist. A proud Brummie and a Peaky Blinder. I’m so saddened by this news. RIP," he told 'Press Association.'

Zephaniah's life was not without controversy, having served time for burglary in his youth. However, his transformation into a celebrated artist and advocate for social justice is a narrative of redemption and resilience.

As tributes pour in from all corners, from the Black Writers' Guild to Aston Villa Football Club, it's clear that Zephaniah's impact was far-reaching. His voice, once a clarion call for the marginalized, will continue to echo through his works, immortalizing his spirit.

The literary world bows its head today, but the verses of Benjamin Zephaniah will forever dance in the minds and hearts of those he touched. Rest in power, Benjamin, your words will never cease to inspire.