Charlie Watts, one of the original members of The Rolling Stones, died on Tuesday at the age of 80, his London publicist said in a statement.
“It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts,” the statement said. “He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family.”
The statement described him as “one of the greatest drummers of his generation” and a “cherished husband, father and grandfather.”
Earlier this month, Watts was forced to bow out of the band’s upcoming U.S. stadium tour after undergoing an unspecified medical procedure.
A spokesperson for the band said at the time that the procedure was unexpected but was “completely successful.”
“With rehearsals starting in a couple of weeks it’s very disappointing to say the least, but it’s also fair to say no one saw this coming,” the band said.
Watts also released a statement after the procedure, joking that “for once, my timing has been a little off” and saying that his doctors had advised him to take some time off to rest.
“After all the fans’ suffering caused by Covid, I really do not want the many RS fans who have been holding tickets for this tour to be disappointed by another postponement or cancellation. I have therefore asked my great friend Steve Jordan to stand in for me,” he said.
Watts met Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards while playing drums in a London blues club in the 1960s and together they founded The Rolling Stones in 1963. Watts, Jagger, and Richards have been featured in all of the band’s studio albums since.
The group skyrocketed to fame in the late 1960s, in part thanks to Watts’ unique swinging style of drumming, but their drug use overshadowed their music at times, landing Jagger and Richards in prison briefly, leading to Brian Jones’ departure from the band, and plaguing Richards for decades.
Watts admitted to heavily using drugs and alcohol in the 1980s to deal with family issues in what he called a “mid-life crisis.” He later said he went cold turkey after slipping down the stairs trying to get a bottle of wine from his cellar.
Despite giving up smoking in the 1990s, Watts was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2004 and underwent radiation. He told the BBC in 2011 that he thought he was going to die. “I thought that’s what you did. You get cancer and waste away and die,” he said. “I had another operation to take the lymph nodes out and radiotherapy, which was six weeks long. Now it’s five years clear.”
Watts continued touring and recording with The Rolling Stones, despite his age and his apparent reluctance. In 2018, he told NME that he often thought about retiring but somehow kept coming back.
“I used to think that at the end of every tour. I’d had enough of it—that was it. But no, not really... But to say this is the last show wouldn’t be a particularly sad moment, not to me anyway. I’ll just carry on as I was yesterday or today.”
Watts lived in rural southwest England with his wife of nearly 57 years, Shirley.