Shirley Watts, Wife of Rolling Stones Drummer Charlie, Dies at 84

Shirley Watts, who was married to Rolling Stones drummer Charlie from 1964 until his death last year, has died after a short illness, according to a statement from her family. She was 84.

The statement reads: “It is with great sadness that Seraphina, Charlotte and Barry announce the death of their much-loved mother, grandmother and mother-in law Shirley Watts. Shirley died peacefully on Friday December 16 in Devon after a short illness surrounded by her family. 

“She will be also sadly missed by her sisters Jackie and Jill, and her brother Stephen. Reunited now forever with her beloved Charlie.” 

The couple became a symbol of marital stability in the freewheeling rock world, even as Charlie drummed for a band that was the most famously ribald band in music history. His low-key demeanor always contrasted with that image, rarely more so than in his home-loving habits — which to him always meant Shirley, whom he met in 1961 when both were studying at the Royal College of Art and married, initially secretly, three years later.

Marriage was a kiss of death for pop stars in the early 1960s and Watts initially kept the nuptials secret even from his bandmates, who were furious when they first found out.

“He didn’t want the band to know because he was scared of Andrew and all that,’ said longtime Stones bassist Bill Wyman in Paul Sexton’s recent Watts biography “Charlie’s Good Tonight.” “So they kept it secret for about three weeks, [then] the press released it. He still denied it for the first couple of days, and then he owned up and that was all right.”

As for the public, Wyman recalled Charlie being confronted by a reporter from England’s Daily Express. “I emphatically deny I am married,’ he replied. “It would do a great deal of harm to my career, if the story got around.” However, Shirley decided not to lie. “We have wanted to marry for about a year, and just didn’t dare,” she said. “The months went on and we decided we could not live separately any longer. I’m terribly happy being Charlie’s wife. It’s just wonderful.”

Watts was hardly the heartthrob type and the marriage was never an issue afterward. The pair suffered problems when Charlie battled substance abuse surprisingly late in his career, during the 1980s, but told Sexton several years later, “Now, luckily, thanks to my wife, I’ve stopped [using] everything.”

Born Shirley Ann Shepherd, she studied sculpture at the Royal College of Art, where she met Watts, who was studying graphic design while also working as a part-time jazz musician. Their only child, daughter Seraphina, was born in 1968 and the family moved to a rural home in Devon (and lived in France during the band’s tax-exile years), where Shirley founded a world-class horse farm. She became a renowned breeder and show person of Arabian horses.

“She is an incredible woman,’ Charlie is quoted in the book as saying of Shirley. “The one regret I have of this life is that I was never home enough. But she always says when I come off tour that I am a nightmare and tells me to go back out.”

Indeed, the family’s longtime friend Tony King says in the book, “Shirley always kept him in line. He was never allowed to get too big for his boots if she was around. She would very quickly call it. She didn’t flinch about saying something to pull the rug from under his feet.

“I remember she wrote me this brilliant letter in the early days when they were touring America, around Altamont time,” he continued, speaking of the band’s galvanizing 1969 American tour.

“She said, ‘Charlie came home at the weekend, full of conceit about being a member of the Rolling Stones. So I made him clean the oven.”’

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