Charlie Watts, the drummer for the Rolling Stones since 1963, has died at the age of 80. His publicist confirmed his death in a statement, writing: “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.” A cause of death was not provided.
Charles Robert Watts was born in London in June 1941 and grew up in the Wembley neighborhood. He started drumming in his early teenage years after developing an interest in jazz music and befriending Dave Green, with whom he played in the jazz band Middlesex while attending Harrow Art School. “I bought a banjo, and I didn’t like the dots on the neck,” Watts said. “So I took the neck off, and at the same time I heard a drummer called Chico Hamilton, who played with Gerry Mulligan, and I wanted to play like that, with brushes. I didn’t have a snare drum, so I put the banjo head on a stand.”
After playing in various local bands, Watts joined Alexis Korner’s group Blues Incorporated in 1961 while working as a graphic designer. The Rolling Stones lacked a regular drummer after forming in the early 1960s, and before originally turning down an invitation to join them to keep his secure day job, Watts eventually became a permanent member. Watts both helped define the band’s sound and was capable of adapting to its evolution, and his work with the Stones earned him three Grammy Awards. In 1989, he and the band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Over his seven-decade career, Watts continued to pursue his passion for graphic design and jazz through a variety of projects, including the 32-piece Charlie Watts Orchestra and the Charlie Watts Quintet. In June 2004, Watts was diagnosed with throat cancer, but recovered after two surgeries. Watts continued to tour and record with the band for another decade and a half, playing his last official Stones concert in August 30, 2019 in Miami.
Watts’ passing has been mourned by figures across the music world, including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Radiohead’s Philip Selway, Janet Weiss, Patti Smith, Liz Phair, Sheila E., Jason Isbell, Ringo Starr, Joan Jett, and more. Read a selection of tributes and revisit some of Watts’ most memorable performances below.
Paul on Charlie Watts ❤️ pic.twitter.com/rn2elK6cFE
— Paul McCartney (@PaulMcCartney) August 24, 2021
— #RingoStarr (@ringostarrmusic) 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
I’m just shocked to hear about Charlie Watts. I don’t know what to say, I feel terrible for Charlie’s family. Charlie was a great drummer and I loved the Stones music, they made great records. Love & Mercy. pic.twitter.com/C4q2zXvVKo
— Brian Wilson (@BrianWilsonLive) August 24, 2021
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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
— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) August 24, 2021
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— Liz Phair (@PhizLair) August 24, 2021
My hero. RIP Charlie Px pic.twitter.com/VulDRmfXyo
— Philip Selway (@philipselway) August 24, 2021