'One of the true timeless icons': Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dies at age 80

By Zach Harper

Charlie Watts, longtime drummer for The Rolling Stones, has passed away at age 80.

Bernard Doherty, the London-born musician's publicist, revealed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member's death in a statement to the U.K. Press Association, saying Charlie passed away Aug. 24 with his family by his side.

"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," Bernard said, noting the family has asked for privacy.

Some of the biggest names in music history were quick to pay tribute to the rhythm man, who had been behind the kit for the Stones for nearly 60 years.

"A very sad day," Elton John tweeted. "Charlie Watts was the ultimate drummer. The most stylish of men, and such brilliant company."

He wished his condolences to Shirley, Charlie's wife of 56 years, their daughter Seraphina and his granddaughter Charlotte, along with the entire band.

"He was a lovely guy, and I knew he was ill, but I didn't know he was this ill," Paul McCartney said in a video. "He was a rock and a fantastic drummer."

"God bless Charlie Watts," Ringo Starr tweeted. "We're going to miss you man. Peace and love to the family."

"AWFUL NEWS," KISS guitarist Paul Stanleytweeted. "One of the true timeless icons and the backbone of the Stones. Hard to fathom the loss. So very sad."

"Charlie's drumming is powerful and unique," former Band guitarist Robbie Robertson tweeted. "His approach is entirely his own and helped shape the sound of rock and roll. Blessings, Charlie Watts."

Earlier this month, Charlie pulled out of The Rolling Stones' U.S. tour that had been slated to kick off on Sept. 26, saying he needed to recover from a medical procedure. Some reports said it had been heart surgery, but that was never confirmed. In 2004, he was treated for throat cancer and recovered.

Born in London in 1941, Charlie discovered music in post-War Britain, where jazz was in style and beginning to influence popular music. He became enamoured with the work of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk and started drumming when he was a teenager. His parents supported his musical ambitions, buying him his first kit so he could jam along with jazz records as he learned.

After attending Harrow Art School and a brief stint as a graphic designer, Charlie began playing with a band called Blues Incorporated and eventually became acquainted with Mick Jagger, the late Brian Jones, Keith Richards and Ian Stewart, since they all hung out in the same scene at the time. In 1963, they formed The Rolling Stones.

Charlie (top left) with Mick, Keith, Brian and bassist/keyboardist Bill Wyman in London in 1964. Photo: © Terry Disney/Express/Getty Images

"To have a drummer from the beginning who could play with the sensibility of Charlie Watts is one of the best assets I've had, because I never had to think about the drummer and what he's going to do," Keith said in 2003. "I can throw him ideas and I never have to worry about the beat... It's a blessing."

In comparison to other drummers of the mid-1960s and early 1970s such as The Who's Keith Moon or Led Zeppelin's John Bonham, Charlie was considerably less flashy and flamboyant, nurturing a no-nonsense image on stage and off.

He also knew just how important he was to the band: He once famously told Mick off for calling him "my drummer," saying he should never call him that again and that Mick was his singer. His swinging rhythms anchored the band's sound, giving the Stones a feel that was rooted in their influences and also firmly their own. He continued to perform with the band up until 2020.

Charlie most recently performed with the Stones during the One World: Together at Home benefit for frontline health care workers during the pandemic on April 18, 2020. Photo: © Getty Images for Global Citizen

"For all of Mick and Keith's supremacy, there's no question that the heart of this band is and will always be Watts: At 71, his whipcrack snare and preternatural sense of swing drive the songs with peerless authority, and define the contradictory uptight-laid-back-ness that's at the heart of the Stones' rhythm," Rolling Stone magazine wrote in 2012.

Charlie's fascination with jazz continued outside the Stones, with his Charlie Watts Quintet releasing five albums throughout the 1990s and other jazz albums throughout the 2000s.

We're sending our condolences to the band and his

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