24 August 2021
The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts has died at the age of 80.
It had been announced earlier this month that Watts would miss the band’s American tour dates to recover from an unspecified medical procedure. He had previously been treated for throat cancer in 2004.
After undergoing emergency surgery last month and announcing he would not appear on tour he commented in a typically droll manner, “For once my timing has been a little off.”
The procedure had been announced as “completely successful” with Watts needing “proper rest and recuperation”
Born in 1941, Watts was raised in Wembley, northwest London, and later in Kingsbury. His first musical love was US jazz from the swing and bebop eras, drumming along with jazz records after getting his first kit in his mid-teens.
He joined the Stones in 1963 after the band had discarded several other drummers. His jazz-inflected swing gave the band their swagger, pushing and pulling at the groove, creating room for Jagger’s lascivious drawl. “Charlie Watts gives me the freedom to fly on stage,” Keith Richards once observed.
On and off the stage, he was quiet and reserved – sticking to the shadows and letting the rest of the band soak up the limelight.
In Holland in 1985, Mick Jagger saucily referred to Charlie Watts as “my drummer”. Charlie famously replied, “Don’t ever call me ‘your drummer’ again. You’re my fucking singer”.
Keith Richards says that “Charlie punched him into a plate full of smoked salmon and he almost floated out the window”.
Offstage, Charlie was a compulsive collector and hoarder. Apart from amassing a vast collection of records, he was an expert on Georgian silver, the American Civil War, Nelson memorabilia, rare books, antique firearms, 18th-century erotic literature and jazz photographs. He also loved cricket (he’d been a wily spin bowler in his youth) and collected memorabilia such as Don Bradman’s old blazer.
A statement from The Stones‘ management team said, “He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family.”
“We kindly request that the privacy of his family, band members and close friends is respected at this difficult time.”
Charlie is survived by his wife Shirley, daughter Seraphina and granddaughter Charlotte.