- 07 Dec 23
Writer, poet and Benjamin Zephaniah has passed away at age 65 after being diagnosed with a brain tumour eight weeks ago.
A statement posted to the writer's Instagram announced that he had passed in the early hours of last Thursday.
It stated that Zephaniah's wife "was with him throughout and was by his side when he passed". It continued, "We shared him with the world and we know many will be shocked and saddened by this news."
View this post on Instagram
He was born and raised in Handsworth, Birmingham. His father was a Barbadian postman and his mother was a Jamaican nurse. After struggling with dyslexia, he left school aged 13, unable to read or write.
However, Zephaniah went on to move to London when he was 22 and he published his first book, Pen Rhythm.
In 1997 Zephaniah joined Sinead O'Connor and Bomb the Bass on the powerful track, 'Empire'. O'Connor spoke of a memory she shared with the British writer in an interview with HotPress in 2020. She reminisced on going to see Israel Vibration, a Kingston, Jamaica trio whose ‘Prophet Has Arisen’ was one of the classic reggae tunes Sinéad covered on 2005’s Throw Down Your Arms.
“Their music kept me alive at times when I seriously thought I might have died. Benjamin Zephaniah took me to one of their gigs. I thought we were going for a laugh, which we were, but the next thing I knew I was onstage with the band, holding the lead singer’s hand, singing all these songs that kept me alive,” she shared.
Zephaniah was also quite an actor as he appeared in the popular BBC drama series Peaky Blinders between 2013 and 2022.
He often spoke out about issues such as racial abuse and education. In 2003 he famously rejected an OBE due to the association of such an honour with the British Empire and its history of slavery.
In an interview on The Big Narstie Show in 2020 he said, "I've been fighting against empire all my life, fighting against slavery and colonialism all my life."
"I've been writing to connect with people, not to impress governments and monarchy. So could I then accept an honour that puts the word Empire on to my name? That would be hypocritical."
Tributes for Zephaniah have been rolling in with English singer, songwriter and political activist, Billy Bragg expressing the loss on X.
Very sorry to hear this news. Benjamin Zephaniah was our radical poet laureate. Rest in power, my friend. https://t.co/h49oLkz0Ny
— Billy Bragg (@billybragg) December 7, 2023
English footballer, Stan Collymore also shared a tribute to X.
Incredibly sad news of the passing of Benjamin Zephaniah, poet, teacher, actor and one of Britain's great post war writers.
A Villan too, to his core, and the loveliest guy you could wish to meet.
Rest in peace, Benjamin, 🎶Holte Enders in the Sky🎶 pic.twitter.com/JIDs8tKJH3
— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) December 7, 2023
Listen to 'Empire' by Bomb the Bass, Sinéad O'Connor and Benjamin Zephaniah below:
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 05 Apr 23
- Film And TV
- 16 Aug 22