Drew passed away in Dublin after a lengthy battle with cancer, friend Brian Hand said. Drew, born in Dublin in 1934, formed The Dubliners in 1962 with Luke Kelly, Ciaran Bourke and Barney McKenna.
Their songs include "The Molly Maguires," "Dirty Old Town" and "Seven Drunken Nights." The Dubliners also recorded with The Pogues, and together they had a hit with "The Irish Rover." Drew also released a string of solo albums.
Earlier this year, a group of musicians — including Bono of U2, Christy Moore, The Pogues' Shane MacGowan, and Sinead O'Connor — released a song called "The Ballad of Ronnie Drew." All profits from the single went to the Irish Cancer Society.
The first chorus, sung by Bono, celebrated Drew's gravelly voice: "Here's to the Ronnie, the voice we adore; Like coals from a coal bucket scraping the floor; Sing out his praises in music and malt; And if you're not Irish, that isn't your fault."
Irish President Mary McAleese called Drew a "champion of traditional Irish music.
"With The Dubliners, he re-energized and refreshed our unique musical heritage," she said. "He brought great pleasure to the people of Ireland and yet more around the world. Ronnie will be greatly missed."
In a statement on U2's official web site, Bono said Drew created "music to inspire, to console."
"Ronnie has left his earthly tour for one of the heavens," the statement said. "They need him up there ... it's a little too quiet and pious."
Drew's wife, Deirdre, died last year. He is survived by two children and five grandchildren.