Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who helped them become one of the greatest bands in rock ‘n’ roll, has died at the age of 80.

“It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts,” a statement said. It said he was “a cherished husband, father and grandfather” and “one of the greatest drummers of his generation”.”We kindly request that the privacy of his family, band members and close friends is respected at this difficult time.” Tributes have come from stars including The Beatles’ Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Ringo Starr, and Sir Elton John. Sir Paul described Watts as “a lovely guy” and “a fantastic drummer” who was “steady as a rock”.

Watts was known as the quiet man of the riotous band, which helped define the Swinging Sixties and then the hippie era with timeless hits such as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. His level head off the stage was mirrored by his metronomic time-keeping on stage, counterbalancing the energy and charisma of singer Mick Jagger and guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood.

Charlie Watts was never the most flashy drummer. He wasn’t known for the frenzied solos of Cream’s Ginger Baker, or for placing explosives in his kick drum like The Who’s Keith Moon. Instead, he was the subtle, stoic heartbeat of The Rolling Stones for almost 60 years. A jazz aficionado, he fell in love with the drums after listening to Chico Hamilton play brushes on Walking Shoes; and was only introduced to the dark arts of rock ‘n’ roll by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the early 1960s.

He joined the Stones in 1963 after the band had discarded several other drummers – and they never looked back. “Charlie Watts gives me the freedom to fly on stage,” Richards later observed. His jazz-inflected swing gave the Stones’ songs their swagger, pushing and pulling at the groove, creating room for Jagger’s lascivious drawl.

Queen guitarist Brian May wrote on Instagram: “He was the nicest gent you could ever meet. And such a pillar of strength for the Rolling Stones – to whom he brought a touch of Jazz and a mountain of pure class.”

 In 2016, Watts was ranked 12th in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest drummers of all time. He is survived by his wife Shirley, daughter Seraphina and granddaughter Charlotte.