Called a “titan of British literature,” poet, author and actor Benjamin Zephaniah has died.
He was 65 years old.
A statement on Instagram said that Zephaniah died Thursday with his wife at his side. He had been diagnosed with a brain tumor eight weeks ago, BBC News reported.
Zephaniah was born in Birmingham to a Barbadian postman and a Jamaican nurse.
He was dyslexic and only went to school until he was 13, unable to read or write, BBC News reported.
But that didn’t stop him from expressing himself through word, publishing his first book “Pen Rhythm,” when he was 22, The Los Angeles Times reported. He eventually published five novels and a book of poetry for children.
He also had a music career, performing dub poetry and performing with The Benjamin Zephaniah Band.
Zephaniah also expanded into acting, appearing on the BBC drama “Peaky Blinders” from 2013 through 2022, playing Jeremiah “Jimmy” Jesus in 14 episodes.
He also appeared on “Zen Motoring,” “The Bill,” “East Enders” and “The Comic Strip Presents,” The Los Angeles Times reported.
Zephaniah was selected to become an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, or OBE, in 2003, but declined it because of the connection between the empire and slavery.
“I’ve been fighting against empire all my life, fighting against slavery and colonialism all my life,” he said in 2020, according to BBC News. “I’ve been writing to connect with people, not to impress governments and monarchy. Could I then accept an honor that puts the word Empire on to my name? That would be hypocritical.”
He released the album “Rasta” in 1982, featuring the Wailers in their first recording after the death of Bob Marley. The album had a tribute to Nelson Mandela, who was a political prisoner at the time. Mandela went on to become the South African president.
Zephaniah helped create the Black Writers’ guild, which released a statement upon his death, saying, “Our family of writers is in mourning at the loss of a deeply valued friend and a titan of British literature. Benjamin was a man of integrity and an example of how to live your values,” BBC News reported.
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