Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dead at 80: 'Heartbeat of the band'

Watts appears on every Stones studio record and never missed a gig since joining the band in 1963. "I feel just a bit older today," writes one fan.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
2 min read

Charlie Watts, drummer for The Rolling Stones, has died at 80. He's seen here performing in Miami with Keith Richards in 2019.

Rich Fury/Getty Images

Charlie Watts, drummer of The Rolling Stones for more than 50 years, died Tuesday at age 80 in London. While the cause of death wasn't released, the band announced in early August Watts wouldn't be joining their upcoming US tour after undergoing a successful medical procedure. Watts was treated for throat cancer in 2004.

"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 band said in a tweet.

The band also updated its official website, rollingstones.com, with a full-page photo of Watts in a suit and tie.

His New York Times obituary recounts other members of the Stones remembering how, in their early days, they knew they needed a good drummer but couldn't afford the already established and well-paid Watts, who was drumming with jazz and blues groups. He joined the band in 1963, only after they could guarantee him £5 a week ($6.86, AU$9.46).

Watts and his wife, Shirley, married in 1964, and despite his rock 'n' roll job, stayed together until his death. He is survived by his wife and their daughter, Seraphina.

In recent years, Watts became a favorite of meme-makers who enjoyed contrasting his calmer life and look with that of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. One popular tweet showed a photo of the band with the text, "I like how there's just one guy in the Rolling Stones that dresses like a regular 77 year-old man."

Fans remembered Watts on social media, with many citing quotes and anecdotes about how Watts' lifestyle set him apart from his wilder bandmates. 

"When people talk about the '60s I never think that was me there," one tweet quoted Watts as saying. "It was me and I was in it, but I was never enamored with all that. It's supposed to be sex and drugs and rock and roll and I'm not really like that."

Wrote another fan, "I feel just a little older today."

Another called Watts "the heartbeat of the band."

Celebrity tributes

Watts influenced many musicians and had many famous fans over his long career, and many of them posted memories and tributes.

Elton John, himself a style icon, called Watts, "the ultimate drummer. The most stylish of men, and such brilliant company."

And Beatle Paul McCartney, who, like Watts, knows what it's like to be in one of the most famous bands on the planet, remembered him in a Twitter video, calling Watts "a lovely guy."

McCartney's bandmate, Ringo Starr, also remembered his fellow drummer, writing, "God bless Charlie Watts we're going to miss you man peace and love to the family."

Joan Jett, Lenny Kravitz, Brian Wilson, Duran Duran, Sheryl Crow and others also remembered Watts.

Rolling Stone notes that while Watts isn't the founding Rolling Stones drummer, since Tony Chapman and Carlo Little played with them in 1962, he appears on every single studio record and never missed a gig since joining the band in January 1963.