Benjamin Zephaniah: acclaimed poet and writer dies aged 65 as tributes pour in - cause of death

Professor Benjamin Zephaniah, who was known for his works about refugees and healthy eating, has died following a short brain tumour diagnosis
Acclaimed writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah has died at the age of 65 weeks after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. (Credit: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)Acclaimed writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah has died at the age of 65 weeks after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. (Credit: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
Acclaimed writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah has died at the age of 65 weeks after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. (Credit: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

Acclaimed poet and writer professor Benjamin Zephaniah has died at the age of 65, his family has confirmed.

The author, who was known for his work on refugees, political issues and healthy eating, died just weeks after he was diagnosis with a brain tumour. He was also known to viewers of the hit BBC drama Peaky Blinders, appearing as the character of Jeremiah Jesus on the show.

In a statement, his family said:  “It is with great sadness and regret that we announced the death of our beloved husband, son and brother in the early hours of this morning 7th December 2023. Benjamin was diagnosed with a brain tumour eight 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.”

The celebrated Birmingham-born writer was kicked out of school at the age of 13, unable to read or write and having being told he has dyslexia. However, he went from strength to strength, publishing his first book of poetry, 'Pen Rhythm', in his 20s and continuing his successful career throughout his life. In 2003, he rejected a CBE from Buckingham Palace for the association to the British Empire and its history of slavery.

In 2018, he published his autobiography 'The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah' to coincide with his 60th birthday. The book was nominated for autobiography of the year at the National Book Awards and was shortlisted in the Costa Book Awards the same year.

Tributes have poured in for Zephaniah, with writer Michael Rosen saying: "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."

Birmingham-based football club Aston Villa also paid their condolences, posting on X (formerly Twitter): "Everyone at Aston Villa is deeply saddened by news of the passing of legendary writer and poet, Benjamin Zephaniah. Named as one of Britain's top 50 post-war writers in 2008, Benjamin was a lifelong Aston Villa fan and had served as an ambassador for the @AVFCFoundation. The thoughts and condolences of all at the club are with his family and friends at this time."

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