Charlie Watts was the drummer for 58 years with The Rolling Stones, arguably the top hard rock band in the world with an estimated 250 million records sold. The Rolling Stones won three Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame. Watts, vocalist Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards were the only band members to perform on all 30 of their studio albums (1964-2020).
On August 5, 2021, Watts withdrew from an upcoming U.S. tour after having a surgical procedure on his heart, saying, “I am working hard to get fully fit but I have today accepted on the advice of the experts that this will take a while.” On August 24, at age 80, he died at a London hospital. His obituaries did not give a cause of death, but noted that he was “universally recognized as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time” (Variety, August 25, 2021).
Early Life and Music Career
Watts was born in London in 1941, during World War II. His father was a truck driver and his mother had been a factory worker. His neighbor and best friend was Dave Green, who went on to became one of England’s top jazz bassists. Watts became interested in drumming and his parents bought him a drum kit in 1955, when he was 14. At age 17, he and Green played in a jazz band in Middlesex called the Jo Jones All Stars. He went to art school and worked as a graphic designer, but his real interest was playing the drums with bands in local coffee shops and clubs. A age 21, he joined a band called Blues Incorporated and met Brian Jones, Ian “Stu” Stewart, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who also played in the local clubs. At age 22, he became a permanent member of The Rolling Stones and never missed a scheduled concert. His last live concert with the band was August 30, 2019, in Miami, Florida.
His Personal Life
In 1964, at age 24, he married Shirley Ann Shepherd and they had one daughter, Seraphina. They remained married until his death. They became very wealthy from his musical performances, with a net worth of about $250 million, and owned an Arabian horse stud farm.
In his mid-forties, Watts had a period of uncontrolled drug and alcohol use that almost cost him his marriage. He responded by completely giving up both alcohol and drugs.
In 2004, at age 63, he discovered a lump on the left side of his neck and was diagnosed with throat cancer, treated with two operations to remove the cancer and the local lymph nodes, and given radiation.
Symptoms of Throat Cancer
Head and neck cancers can show up as:
• a lump or sore that doesn’t heal
• pain when swallowing
• pain in the neck or the throat that does not go away
• pain or ringing in the ears
• difficulty hearing
• difficulty breathing or speaking
• coughing, voice changes such as hoarseness or not speaking clearly
• unexplained weight loss
Throat Cancer Risk Factors
Head and neck cancers account for four percent of cancers in the U.S., and are twice as common in men as in women. They usually occur in people over age 50, and are associated with:
• tobacco smoking or use of smokeless tobacco products
• excess alcohol consumption
• exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV) or the Epstein-Barr virus that causes mononucleosis
• a diet low in fruits and vegetables
• gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
• prolonged exposure to various workplace chemicals and other toxic substances
Most throat cancers that are attributable to HPV could be prevented with immunization.
It usually takes from 10 to 30 years after the initial infection to develop cancer, so the exposure to HPV is likely to have occurred many years before the cancer is discovered. Once you are infected with HPV, it is too late for the vaccine; you must be immunized before you are infected with HPV. That is why the vaccine should be given to boys and girls by age 11 or earlier, before their first sexual contact. There is no evidence whatever that vaccination encourages young people to become promiscuous.
Charles Robert Watts
June 2, 1941 – August 24, 2021