Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dies, aged 80 - Rokoto

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dies, aged 80

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts has died, aged 80.

The news was announced by his publicist Bernard Doherty and shared by the iconic group on social media on Tuesday evening (2.45am Wednesday AEST)

“It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts,” a statement said.

“He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family.”

Watts is described as “a cherished husband, father and grandfather” and “one of the greatest drummers of his generation”.

RELATED: Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts to miss group’s US tour after undergoing emergency surgery

“We kindly request that the privacy of his family, band members and close friends is respected at this difficult time,” the statement said. No cause of death was cited.

The sad news came as the band were preparing for their North America No Filter tour kicking off at the end of September.

The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts
The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts performs on stage during their “No Filter” tour at NRG Stadium on July 27, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (AFP via Getty Images)

Earlier this month, Watts abruptly pulled out from the tour after undergoing an unspecified 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,” Watts’s publicist said in a statement released just three weeks ago.

“For once, my timing has been a little off,” Watts joked.

“I am working hard to get fully fit but I have today accepted on the advice of the experts that this will take a while.

“After all the fans’ suffering caused by COVID, I really do not want the many fans who have been holding tickets for this tour to be disappointed by another postponement or cancellation. I have therefore asked my great friend Steve Jordan to stand in for me.”

The Rolling Stones
(L-R) Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones perform onstage at Hard Rock Stadium on August 30, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Getty)

At the time, Mick Jagger tweeted: “We really look forward to welcoming Charlie back as soon as he is fully recovered.”

“Thank you to our friend Steve Jordan for stepping in, so we can still play all the shows for you this fall,” he said.

None of the band members have immediately commented on the death of Watts, who has been with the Stones since 1963.

Watts ranked just behind Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as the group’s longest lasting and most essential member.

His last concert with the group took place in Miami on August 30, 2019, although he did appear during the April 2020 One World Together all-star livestream early in the pandemic.

Watts last toured Australia with The Rolling Stones in 2014.

The Rolling Stones perform during “One World: Together At Home” presented by Global Citizen on April, 18, 2020. (Getty Images for Global Citizen)
Charlie Watts performing at Adelaide Oval on October 25, 2014 during the band’s On Fire tour in Australia. (Getty)

Always a reluctant rock and roll star — his true love was jazz — Watts was born in 1941, when Hitler’s bombs were still falling over London. He grew up in the west London suburb of Wembley.

From a young age, Watts was passionate about drumming. He would “rap out tunes on the table with pieces of wood or a knife and fork” before his parents bought him a drum kit when he was 14, his mother said.

He went on to study graphic design at the Harrow School of Art and his first job was in advertising.

In 1961, he illustrated and wrote a fanciful tribute to Charlie Parker; it was subsequently published in 1964, after the Rolling Stones’ rise to fame, as Ode to a High Flying Bird. The preface read: “This story was compiled by one Charlie to a late and great Charlie”.

Members of the Rolling Stones, from left, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger appear at a party celebrating the opening of their film “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” in New York on Jan. 18, 1983. (AP Photo/Carlos Rene Perez, File) (AP)

At the same time, Watts played in a band with Alexis Korner, the founding father of the British blues scene, in Ealing, west London, where the late Stones member Brian Jones, Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton were also guest musicians.

In 1962, Jones formed the Rolling Stones with singer Jagger, pianist Ian Stewart and guitarists Keith Richards and Dick Taylor. Watts turned down the group’s first offer for him to join, finally conceding and playing his first gig with them in January 1963.

He was the missing piece in the group’s early lineup; with Jagger and Keith Richards, he remained a constant with “the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band” on record and on stage for more than 50 years.

Watts (left) with Mick Jagger (second right) and Keith Richards (right) remained a constant with “the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band” on record and on stage for more than 50 years (AP)

He provided nimble, energetic support on the band’s long run of dirty, blues- and R&B-based hits of the early and mid-’60s. He reached the pinnacle of his prowess on a series of mature recordings, made with producer Jimmy Miller in the late ’60s and early ’70s, in which his sharp playing caromed off Richards’ serrated guitar riffs.

In the 2003 oral history According to the Rolling Stones, Richards said, “To have a drummer from the beginning who could play with the sensibility of Charlie Watts is one of the best hidden assets I’ve had, because I never had to think about the drummer and what he’s going to do. I just say, ‘Charlie, it goes like this,’ and we’ll kick it around a bit and it’s done. I can throw him ideas and I never have to worry about the beat…It’s a blessing.”

From 1971-81, Watts appeared on eight consecutive No. 1 studio albums by the Stones, and appeared on three of the biggest-grossing tours of the era. From 1975 on, he brought his design skills to bear and worked with Jagger on configuring the elaborate stage sets that became a hallmark of the act’s later tours.

From 1971-81, Watts (right) appeared on eight consecutive No. 1 studio albums by the Stones, and appeared on three of the biggest-grossing tours of the er (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Watts wasn’t a rock music fan at first and remembered being guided by Richards and Brian Jones as he absorbed blues and rock records, notably the music of bluesman Jimmy Reed. He said the band could trace its roots to a brief period when he had lost his job and shared an apartment with Jagger and Richards because he could live there rent-free.

“Keith Richards taught me rock and roll,” Watts said.

“We’d have nothing to do all day and we’d play these records over and over again. I learned to love Muddy Waters. Keith turned me on to how good Elvis Presley was, and I’d always hated Elvis up ’til then.”

Watts was the final man to join the Stones; the band had searched for months to find a permanent drummer and feared Watts was too accomplished for them. Richards would recall the band wanting him so badly to join that members cut down on expenses so they could afford to pay Watts a proper salary. Watts said he believed at first the band would be lucky to last a year.

“Every band I’d ever been in had lasted a week,” he said.

“I always thought the Stones would last a week, then a fortnight, and then suddenly, it’s 30 years.”

The Rolling Stones (L-R) Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards and Ron Wood pose for photos from their plan at Jose Marti international airport in Havana, Cuba on March 24, 2016. Watts’ publicist, Bernard Doherty, said Watts passed away peacefully in a London hospital surrounded by his family on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. He was 80. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa File) (AP)

In the late ’70s, he began using heroin, and his addiction became so acute that he nodded out in the studio during the recording of Some Girls (1978).

He later said in an interview with the BBC that Richards — an enthusiastic abuser of the drug — shook him awake at the session and counselled him, “you should do this when you’re older.” Watts said he took the guitarist’s advice and stopped using the drug.

He again grappled with alcohol and drug issues in the mid-’80s, but once again discreetly and successfully shook off his addictions, cleaning up for good in 1986.

The drummer, a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2004 but successfully recovered.

Ronnie Wood, from left, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones perform at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday, July 15, 2019, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP) (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

He married Shirley Ann Shepherd in 1964, and the couple had one daughter, Seraphina. They remained married until Watts’ death.

He spent most of his time on his estate in Devon in southwest England. His wife bred horses and owned a well-known stud farm.

He maintained a love of jazz throughout his life, and from the ’80s on would record regularly with various ad hoc lineups of his Charlie Watts Quintet, essaying the hard-swinging instrumental music that fired his early interest in music.

Watts was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Stones in 1989.

Watts is survived by his wife, and daughter Serafina.

– Reported with Associated Press, CNN and Variety

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