Charlie Watts Dead at 80: The Rolling Stones Lose Their Drummer

Charlie Watts Drumming

Photo by Photo taken by Bradford Timeline

Charlie Watts Drumming

Gemma Fink and Avery Martin


On Tuesday, August 24, 2021, the Rolling Stones devastatingly lost their first longtime member, Charlie Watts. 

Charlie Watts served as both the drummer and backbone of the iconic rock group for nearly sixty years. He brought a dapper sense of style and passion for jazz music to the Stones, contrasting with his raucous bandmates who, for the most part, lived and breathed “rock and roll.” In an article released upon his death, Rolling Stone magazine referred to him as “one of the most famous and respected drummers of all time.” 

Watts was born in London on June 2, 1941, and grew up loving jazz music. Though he first tried learning to play the ukulele, his frustration with chords drove him to dismember the instrument, using its wooden pieces to instead craft a makeshift drum set. Eventually, he traded his handiwork for a real drum set, beginning his career as one of history’s greatest drummers. 

The Rolling Stones have fans that span every generation. LFA teacher and Co-Ax leader, Steve Ryder, who grew up in the band’s homeland, explained, “If you’re English in the sixties, it’s the soundtrack of your life. Songs like Satisfaction and Paint It Black were part of our lives and always will be.” 

Similarly, Ava Trandel ‘23 spoke of her realization that the young artists she had imagined performing their timeless tracks are no longer so young. As she explained, “Even though their music doesn’t age, they do, and it’s weird to think about.” 

Both Ryder and Trandel claimed that Watts’ death was the “end to an era.”

A few weeks prior to his death, the band’s publicist announced that Watts would not be performing in their upcoming U.S. tour, titled “No Filter.” Though it was no secret that his health had been declining for quite some time, the announcement still shocked many. 

His cause of death was not revealed to the public, but it was most likely related to some sort of ongoing or previous health issue. He passed away peacefully in a hospital in London, surrounded by family.

Throughout his career, Watts served as the band’s heartbeat. In some ways, one could argue that he was more Beatles than Stones, but ultimately, this is what set him apart. Even while late-night loitering in any given hotel lobby, he was seldom unclad in a three piece suit. 

As his bandmate (and legendary guitarist) Keith Richards said in 1979: “Everybody thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones. 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.”