Skip to main content

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dead at 80

A photograph of Charlie Watts behind the drums
(Image credit: David Wolff - Patrick/Getty Images)

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts has died aged 80.

The news was confirmed by his publicist, Bernard Doherty, who said: "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.''

Watts announced earlier this month that he would be sitting out the initial dates of the band's upcoming US tour as he recuperated from a medical procedure. "For once, my timing has been a little off," he joked. 

Born in London in 1941, Watts hooked up with the Stones in 1963, joining Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones a year before the release of the band's debut album. Influenced by jazz drummers like Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes, his style was marked by its lack of flamboyance, performing with a minimum of apparent effort and providing a relaxed, rhythmic backbone that gave the band much of their swing. 

"A lot of white bands to me are vastly overrated," he told Classic Rock in 2012. "I say white bands because most of the music I love to play on record is by black American musicians, 40s and 50s stuff. When white musicians did get hold of the blues, they seemed compelled to expand it in all directions: Led Zeppelin, Cream, 15-minute versions of Crossroads. The Stones never did." 

Watts often appeared somewhat bemused by the success of the band, giving the impression in interviews he'd rather be talking about jazz or watching the cricket. When the Rolling Stones visited the Playboy Mansion in 1974, Watts let the other band members live up to the rock'n'roll cliches, while he retired to the games room to play pool.

"I didn’t believe it," he told us in 2012, when asked about the 'Greatest Rock ’N’ Roll Band In The World’ tag used to introduce the band onstage. "What about Little Richard? Then you have Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino, Chuck Berry’s studio band - there isn’t a better rock ’n’ roll band. That’s where we got it from. Roll Over Beethoven by everybody else is a joke."

A trained graphic artist, Watts published a book of drawings entitled Ode to A Highflying Bird in 1965, and two years later supplied the cartoon strip that adorned the back cover of the Rolling Stones' Between The Buttons album. Away from The Stones, he released a series of jazz albums with The Charlie Watts Orchestra, The Charlie Watts Quintet and The Charlie Watts Tentet. 

Watts' most recent recording with the Rolling Stones was the single Living in a Ghost Town, released in April 2020. 

No cause of death of been announced. Watts was treated for throat cancer in 2004, but given the all clear following a course of radiotherapy.

More: The world of music pays tribute to Charlie Watts.