Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who provided the backbone for the band’s songs for nearly six decades, died Tuesday, according to his publicist. He was 80.
In a statement posted on the band’s Twitter page, Watts’ spokesperson said 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,” the statement said. “We kindly request that the privacy of his family, band members and close friends is respected at this difficult time.”
His death comes weeks after Watts announced that he wouldn’t be joining the band for a planned U.S. tour in 2021 after undergoing an unspecified medical procedure. In 2004, he underwent treatment for throat cancer, according to BBC News.
Watts joined the Rolling Stones alongside the band’s founding members, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones, in 1963. In the decades since, he earned a reputation for being well-liked, understated and one of the best rock drummers of his generation.
“Everybody thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones,” Richards said in 1979, according to Rolling Stone. “If Charlie wasn’t doing what he’s doing on drums, that wouldn’t be true at all. You’d find out that Charlie Watts is the Stones.”
To the world, he was a rock star. But Watts often said that the actual experience was draining and unpleasant, and even frightening.
“Playing the drums was all I was ever interested in,” Watts told The Observer in 2000. “The rest of it made me cringe.”
The Stones began, Watts said, “as white blokes from England playing Black American music” but quickly evolved their own distinctive sound. Watts was a jazz drummer in his early years and never lost his affinity for the music he first loved, heading his own jazz band and taking on numerous other side projects.
“With the jazz, it’s great being onstage with such wonderful players, and with the Stones, it’s great being up there with your friends,” he told The Observer.
Watts was born in Neasden, London, on June 2, 1941, the son of a lorry driver and a housewife. He married his wife, Shirley Ann Shepherd, in 1964, according to USA Today. The couple had one daughter, Seraphina, who was born in 1968, according to the newspaper.
Fellow musicians, friends and fans took to social media Tuesday to remember and mourn Watts.
He is survived by his wife, his daughter and a granddaughter named Charlotte, according to The Guardian.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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