Both fans and former colleagues were quick to express their grief and condolences for Benjamin Zephaniah and his family. “Peaky Blinders” star Cillian Murphy worked alongside Zephaniah for nearly 10 years, frequently sharing scenes throughout the crime drama series right up until the final season. Their characters’ friendship included several poignant moments, such as when Zephaniah’s character officiated the wedding between Murphy’s Tommy Shelby and his longtime love Grace (Annabelle Wallis), or when Jimmy attended the funerals of various fallen members of the Shelby family. Murphy had this to say about his co-star:
“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”
Tragically, Zephaniah isn’t the first “Peaky Blinders” veteran to suffer an untimely death. Only a few years prior, Helen McCrory passed away after years of portraying Shelby matriarch Aunt Polly and left a massive hole at the center of the series. But fittingly enough, Zephaniah’s legacy is hardly limited to his memorable performance on an immensely popular show. More than anything else, many will remember him as a fierce defender of Black rights and deeply impassioned critic of British imperialism. In fact, he famously turned down an OBE from then-Prime Minister Tony Blair over 20 years ago and, up until his final breath, lived a life that prioritized the rights of the disenfranchised above all else.
He will be sorely missed.