Losing a Legend
- It was just announced today that legendary Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts has died from throat cancer at 80 years old.
- Bernard Doherty, the late legend’s publicist, confirmed the news. Watts died earlier today in London, surrounded by loved ones.
- Throat cancer is often linked to the sexually transmitted humanpapillomavirus, or HPV, which many people are not aware of. HPV is also linked to anal cancer and cervical cancer.
Bernard Doherty, Watts’ publicist, confirmed the news but did not specify exactly what the cause of death was, just that he had gone ‘peacefully.’ The rocker had battled throat cancer.Read More
“We kindly request that the privacy of his family, band members and close friends is respected at this difficult time,” he added.
As soon as the tragic news broke, The Rolling Stones’ Instagram page posted a caption-less photo of the band’s longtime drummer looking dapper in a suit.
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It was recently announced that Watts would not be going on tour this fall with the band.
“Charlie has had a procedure which was completely successful, but his doctors this week concluded that he now needs proper rest and recuperation,” a rep for the band said at the time. “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 Rolling Stones formed in 1962 and were one of the last legendary ’60s bands with most band members still standing, until now.
The English group have been plagued with health issues over the years but have managed to rock out together on massive stadium tours for nearly six decades. Frontman Mick Jagger, 77, thankfully gave up heavy drinking and drugs years ago and recently had successful heart valve replacement surgery. Guitarist Keith Richards, 78, has survived a pretty intense alcohol and drug addiction, and 74-year-old bassist Ronnie Wood (since 1976) is a two-time lung cancer survivor after a lifetime of heavy smoking. Additionally, founding bassist Bill Wyman—who is no longer with the band—beat prostate cancer.
Watts, who joined the band a year after they formed, was married to longtime love Shirley Ann Shepard, who he met before the band got famous, up until his death. They wed in 1964 and share one daughter, Seraphina, now 53.
Watts’s Cancer Battle
The “Wembley Whammer,” as he had been nicknamed by Jagger with a nod to Watts’ hometown of Wembley in London, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2004 and completed six weeks of radiotherapy at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital. He had two surgeries and admitted that he thought he was going to die.
“It was benign, but [the doctor] said we should take it out. On the slide, it had tiny cancer cells on it,” he explained in a 2011 interview with Ultimate Classic Rock. “He said, ‘You have cancer of the whatever.’ And that night I thought I was going to die. I thought that’s what you did. You get cancer and waste away and die.”
The second operation was to take the lymph nodes out, he said.
“When they [take out the lymph nodes], the muscles go,” he said to Rolling Stone in 2005, a year after after beating cancer. “Then you sit around for eight weeks in treatment. You can’t lift your arm. It’s like being minorly paralyzed. It was a worry, because of what I do for a living. We’ve got a tour, and I didn’t know if I could get through a song. You can’t stop once you get going, if you’re a drummer … I didn’t know if I could make it … but it’s amazing how quickly your body heals.”
HPV and Throat Cancer
There are no annual screenings for throat cancer like other types of cancer. However, there are signs to look out for and consult your doctor if they happen often. Symptoms of throat cancer may include vocal changes, coughing, trouble swallowing, ear pain, a lump or sore in the throat that won’t heal, unexplained weight loss and a persistent sore throat.
Another cause of throat cancer is HPV or the humanpapillomavirus.
A lot of people don’t know that Human Papillomavirus can cause cancer – or assume that it can only cause cervical cancer, because that’s the cancer that’s talked about the most. But HPV can cause a handful of other cancers, including throat. Cancers in the back of the throat are often caused by tobacco and alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but recent studies have indicated that as many as 60-70% of these throat cancers may be linked to HPV – or caused by a combination of HPV, alcohol and tobacco.
Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, spoke with SurvivorNet about this difficult disease.
“There are no screening guidelines to screen for throat cancer, unlike cervical cancer with pap smears,” says Dr. Geiger. “There are no standard tests to determine if you harbor the virus.”
However, HPV-related throat cancer is generally very responsive to a combination of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, according to Dr. Geiger. “The cure rates for people who have HPV-related disease are a lot higher than those who have tobacco-related throat cancer.”