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Benjamin Zephaniah, poet and ‘Peaky Blinders’ actor, dies at 65

Zephaniah died Thursday after being diagnosed with a brain tumor eight weeks ago, his Instagram account said.
Benjamin Zephaniah
Benjamin Zephaniah.Tom Jenkins / Getty Images
/ Source: Variety

Benjamin Zephaniah, a British poet, writer and actor who played the role of Jeremiah Jesus in “Peaky Blinders,” has died. He was 65.

According to a statement posted to Zephaniah’s official Instagram account, he died on Thursday after being diagnosed with a brain tumor eight weeks ago.

“Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed,” the statement continued. 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.”

After growing up in Birmingham, England, Zephaniah eventually moved to London and published his first book of poetry, “Pen Rhythm,” in 1980 at the age of 22. He would go on to publish 13 more poetry books, often tackling political subjects such as the British legal system in 1985’s “The Dread Affair” and his takeaways from a visit to Palestine in 1990’s “Rasta Time in Palestine.” Zephaniah also penned several novels and plays, and wrote an autobiography in 2018, “The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah.”

In addition to his work in the written word, Zephaniah made several television appearances, the most well known being his role as the preacher Jeremiah Jesus on “Peaky Blinders.” He appeared in 14 episodes of the series over its six seasons. Zephaniah’s other TV credits include “EastEnders,” “The Bill” and “Zen Motoring.”

“Peaky Blinders” star Cillian Murphy paid tribute to Zephaniah in a statement to Variety, saying: “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.”

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