Henzell, whose ancestors included Huguenot glassblowers and an old English family who had made their fortune growing sugar on Antigua, grew up on the Caymanas sugar cane estate near Kingston.
He was sent to a boarding school in the United Kingdom at fourteen and later attended McGill University in 1953 and 1954. He then dropped out of this school, choosing instead to hitchhike around Europe. He eventually got work as a stagehand at the BBC.
He returned to Jamaica in the 1950s, where he directed advertisements for some years until he began work on The Harder They Come.
Henzell also shot some footage for what was planned as his next film, No Place Like Home, in Harder's aftermath, but he went broke before he could finish the film. Fed up by this, and the lack of finance for further production, he went on to become a writer, publishing his first novel, Power Game, in 1982. Both were meant to complete a planned trilogy of films centring on Ivanhoe Martin.
The footage for No Place Like Home was lost. Years later, he came across editing tapes in a lab in New York. Just to have a sense of completion, he worked on the project. When he showed it to a few friends, their response was enthusiastic. He eventually was able to retrieve the original footage. No Place Like Home was screened for the public at the 31st annual Toronto International Film Festival in September 2006 at the Cumberland Theatre; it was sold out. Film leads Carl Bradshaw (The Harder They Come, Smile Orange, Countryman) and Susan O'Meara attended and answered audience questions with Henzell after the screening.
The same film is scheduled to be screened at the Flashpoint Film Festival at the beginning of December 2006 in Negril.
He died of cancer on November 30, 2006, aged 70, and is survived by his three children: Justine, Toni-Ann and Jason.
See you in Jamaica.