Charlie Watts, legendary drummer for the Rolling Stones who provided the badass bottom line on classics such as “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Gimme Shelter,” has died “peacefully” in the UK. He was 80.
Watts’ publicist Bernard Doherty confirmed news of the rock icon’s passing on Tuesday.
The English drummer stepped down from his role at the beginning of this month following an undisclosed medical procedure, just before the band was scheduled to relaunch a tour postponed by the pandemic. Steve Jordan, drummer of Keith Richards’ group the X-Pensive Winos, was chosen to replace him for the Stones’ upcoming show dates.
A spokesperson for the band released a statement on Tuesday afternoon: “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.”
“Everybody thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones … Charlie Watts is the Stones.”Keith Richards, guitarist for the Rolling Stones
“We kindly request that the privacy of his family, band members and close friends is respected at this difficult time.”
After more than five decades with “the World’s Greatest Rock ’n Roll Band,” Watts was widely regarded as one of the greatest drummers of all time, with his guitarist Keith Richards, now 77, affectionately deeming Watts a “blessing” to the group in their oral history “According to the Rolling Stones,” circa 2003.
“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 Charlie Watts is the Stones,” Richards said in 1979.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer was born on June 2, 1941, to a working-class family in London. Growing up in Wembley, Watts took up music in his teenage years, landing on the drums thanks to his perceptive parents who noticed the adolescent thumping around the house, as described in “The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones,” by Stanley Booth.
Watts swapped his drumsticks for pencils and brushes at the Harrow art school before starting his first career in advertising in 1961 but spent his nights in blues clubs around London, where he soon met his future bandmates.
Mick Jagger and Watts briefly played together in previous acts, including with Alexis Korner of Cream, before the iconic frontman scouted the drummer for his new group, the “Rollin’ Stones,” with Richards, guitarist Brian Jones, bassist Bill Wyman and pianist Ian Stewart.
In 1963, the Rolling Stones released their first single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On.” Two years later, the band reached No. 1 on the US pop chart with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
Watts grappled with alcohol and drug abuse, including heroin addiction, throughout his career until the mid-’80s as the Stones’ career plateaued and members’ interests diverged. The drummer would record and tour with his own jazz outfit during this time, releasing his own big band record for Columbia in 1986. He continued working in jazz circles through the ’90s and early 2000s — until Richards and Jagger finally reconciled creative differences.
A bout of throat cancer in 2004 didn’t stop Watts from joining the Stones for A Bigger Bang Tour for the following two years — one of the highest-grossing tours of all time (surpassed by U2’s 360° Tour), earning over $558 million.
The band took a rare pause in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic when part of their No Filter Tour, which began in the fall of 2017, was postponed to 2021. They were set to resume the schedule this year before Watts’ health forced him to pull out of the remaining dates.
Watts is survived by his wife Shirley, 82, and daughter Seraphina, 53.