Rolling Stones Drummer Charlie Watts Dead At 80

Charlie Watts has died. Watts, the drummer for the Rolling Stones since 1963, had been planning to sit out the band’s upcoming North American tour while recovering from a medical operation. His publicist confirmed his death in a statement to Stereogum: “It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts. He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family. Charlie was a cherished husband, father and grandfather and also as a member of The Rolling Stones one of the greatest drummers of his generation. We kindly request that the privacy of his family, band members and close friends is respected at this difficult time.” Watts was 80.

Watts was born in 1941 in London’s West End and grew up in the Wembley neighborhood. He started drumming in his early teenage years and briefly attended Harrow Art School after finishing secondary school. While at art school, he played in the jazz band Middlesex with his childhood friend Dave Green. He joined the blues combo Blues Incorporated in 1961 while working as a graphic designer and eventually met the other members of the Rolling Stones in the London club scene.

He joined the Stones in 1963, just as they were beginning to write their own songs, and would continue as their drummer until his death. He has been widely praised as one of the all-time great rock ‘n’ roll drummers, with an unflashy, in-the-pocket playing style that helped to define the sound of the Stones, as well as his ability to adapt to just about any stylistic exercise the band decided to attempt. Over the years, Watts continued to pursue his passions for the visual arts and jazz through a variety of projects, including multiple tributes to Charlie Parker and some graphic design work for the Stones.

Watts’ only prior major health scare was in 2004, when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He recovered and continued touring and recording with the band for another decade and a half, up through last year’s remote pandemic performance. His last official Stones concert was August 30, 2019 in Miami. He leaves behind his wife Shirley, to whom he had remained married since 1964, as well as daughter Seraphina, granddaughter Charlotte, and step-grandson Dylan. Coincidentally, Watts died on the 40th anniversary of the Stones’ Tattoo You album.

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