LONDON — He certainly wasn’t the quietest Rolling Stone, what with all those jazz-inflected drumbeats, but Charlie Watts, who died Tuesday, at age 80, was certainly the most low-key member of the band.
A multitalented creative who spent nearly 60 years drumming for The Rolling Stones, he also designed some of the album sleeves for the band, drew cartoon strips and played with jazz bands when he wasn’t touring or recording with fellow musicians Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones.
“It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts,” his manager said in a statement on behalf of the family. “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 had been treated for, and recovered from, throat cancer in 2004, but became ill again and announced that he would not take part in the Rolling Stones No Filter Tour in the U.S., which runs from Sept. 26 to Nov. 20.
Watts picked up his first drums as a teenager in ’50s London, had a lifelong admiration for his namesake, the jazz musician Charlie Parker, and taught himself how to play by drumming along with the jazz records that he collected at home.
He joined the nascent Rolling Stones in 1963, having attended art school, and worked as a graphic designer. His graphic art appeared on the band’s record sleeves, notably on the back of the “Between the Buttons” album where he created a cartoon and poem. He sketched throughout his career with the Stones and designed the various show stages with Jagger.
When he wasn’t touring or tending to the Arabian horse stud farm that he ran with his wife Shirley in Devon, England, Watts performed jazz with various groups, notably in the Charlie Watts Tentet.
Watts’ private life was relatively low-key and scandal-free compared to that of his band mates who often made headlines for their wild behavior. He remained married to Shirley for 57 years, until his death. The couple had one daughter, Seraphina and a granddaughter named Charlotte.
Fellow musicians including Elton John, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Bryan Adams paid tribute to Watts on social media with John describing Watts as “the ultimate drummer, the most stylish of men, and such brilliant company. My deepest condolences to Shirley, Seraphina and Charlotte. And of course, The Rolling Stones.”
In a video on Twitter, McCartney said Watts was “steady as a rock,” and described him as “a beautiful man, and a fantastic drummer.”