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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts has not quit the band, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday, denying a news report from Australia.
The report, from the normally credible online outlet Undercover (www.undercover.com.au), stirred up a worldwide panic among fans, since Watts' departure would likely mean the end of the venerable group.
"Contrary to a fabricated story that ran this morning on a small music web site in Australia, drummer Charlie Watts has not left The Rolling Stones," spokeswoman Fran Curtis said in an emailed statement.
The Undercover report, attributed to "a source within the Stones inner-circle says," said Watts will never record or tour with the band again. It said the Stones were looking to replace him with New York session drummer Charlie Drayton, who has played on solo projects with Stones guitarist Keith Richards.
The Rolling Stones, which Watts joined in 1963 after a stint in the advertising world, have not released a new album since 2005's poor-selling "A Bigger Bang." Their last tour ended in London in August 2007. Future plans are unknown.
Watts, 68, does not contribute to the songwriting, but his spare, jazz-influenced drumming style is considered key to the band's success. He is closely involved in the design of the band's stage sets and merchandising, and gets the loudest cheers when the four members are introduced in concert.
He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2004, but it went into remission, and the band embarked on a three-year world tour the following year. During the 1980s, the famously clean-living drummer fought a drug addiction at a time when the band had essentially broken up.
Watts has traditionally been the most reluctant to tour, since he hates to leave his wife and Arabian horses at the couple's horse-breeding farm in Devonshire. The media-shy grandfather generally avoids the spotlight, and seems disdainful of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
"Worked five years, and 20 years hangin' around," he glumly told a TV reporter while on tour during the 1980s.
Watts' eccentricities are part of the band's legend, such as tales that he owns a huge vintage-car collection but not a driver license, and allows horses to wander through the house. He also has a darker side, once punching Mick Jagger almost unconscious after the singer referred to him as "my drummer."