Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones’ drummer known for his jazz sensibility and lowkey approach to superstardom, has died at age 80.
A statement posted on Tuesday, Aug. 24 reads, “It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts. He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier [Tuesday] surrounded by his family.” The statement closed by requesting that “the privacy of his family, band members, and close friends is respected at this difficult time.”
Just weeks ago, Watts was gearing up for the Rolling Stones’ U.S. No Filter Tour before he stepped away for a medical procedure for an unknown condition. “Charlie has had a procedure which was completely successful, but his doctors this week concluded that he now needs proper rest and recuperation,” a rep for the band said in a statement at the time. “With rehearsals starting in a couple of weeks, it’s very disappointing to say the least, but it’s also fair to say no one saw this coming.”
Born Charles Robert “Charlie” Watts on June 2, 1941, he took to jazz at an early age and began drumming around age 14. The London-based drummer performed occasionally in the local area before his stints with bands Jo Jones All Stars and Blues Incorporated.
In mid-1962, Watts first met Brian Jones, Ian "Stu" Stewart, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards, and eventually agreed to join the Rolling Stones in January 1963, replacing the Stones’ first drummer and future Kink Mick Avory. Their first single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On,” was then released in June 1963.
With Watts help, the band went on to become one of the best-selling music artists of all time, securing their spot on countless "Greatest Artists of All Time" lists. As a band, they won three Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2004. Some of their hits include (“I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” "Paint It, Black," “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and "Gimme Shelter," all led by Watts' brilliant timekeeping.
As Keith Richards said in 1979, “Everybody thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones. If Charlie wasn’t doing what he’s doing on drums, that wouldn’t be true at all. You’d find out that Charlie Watts is the Stones.”
Aside from drumming, Watts exercised his graphic design skills for the Stones, helping craft various album artwork and tour stages, including the Tour of the Americas '75, Steel Wheels Tour, Bridges to Babylon Tour, Licks Tour, and A Bigger Bang Tour. Watts also remained a frequent jazz player, even debuting the 32-piece Charlie Watts Orchestra in 1986.
All the while, Watts remained true to himself, despite his superstar status as the drummer of the Rolling Stones. His style and demeanor always reflected his passion for jazz, rather than the rock 'n' roll lifestyle his bandmates leaned into. In the mid-eighties, Watts did battle with drugs and alcohol, but even then, it was largely a private matter, just as most of Watts' life.
In June 2004, Watts was diagnosed with throat cancer, which was treated and went into remission. At the time, he remarked, "It seems that whenever we stop, I get ill. So maybe I should carry on!"
In addition to being a Rock and Roll Hall Famer, Watts was voted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2006 and is universally recognized as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time.
Outside of music, Watts owned an Arabian horse farm with his wife of 57 years, Shirley. Watts is survived by his wife, daughter Serafina, and grandchild Charlotte.
See some of the tributes to Watts within the music community below.
I love you my fellow Gemini ~ I will dearly miss you ~ you are the best🙏❤️☀️ pic.twitter.com/aMYTGWikxB— Ronnie Wood (@ronniewood) August 25, 2021
Paul on Charlie Watts ❤️ pic.twitter.com/rn2elK6cFE— Paul McCartney (@PaulMcCartney) August 24, 2021
A very sad day. Charlie Watts was the ultimate drummer. The most stylish of men, and such brilliant company. My deepest condolences to Shirley, Seraphina and Charlotte. And of course, The Rolling Stones.— Elton John (@eltonofficial) August 24, 2021
@therollingstones #CharlieWatts #RIP pic.twitter.com/9rjSSgioZL
We are extremely saddened to hear the passing of the legendary Charlie Watts. Our deepest condolences to Charlie’s family and The Rolling Stones. Sincerely, from the guys in Aerosmith you’ve given us all so much! RIP CHARLIE.— Aerosmith (@Aerosmith) August 24, 2021
Photo by: Ron Pownall pic.twitter.com/18bAkjhVbG
Charlie Watts was the most elegant and dignified drummer in rock and roll. He played exactly what was needed - no more - no less. He is one of a kind. pic.twitter.com/aasPZ2fMYX— Joan Jett (@joanjett) August 24, 2021
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