Ronnie James Dio, one of heavy metal’s all-time greatest singers and a five-decade rock veteran, died early Sunday morning, according to a statement posted on his website by his wife and longtime manager, Wendy Dio. The singer, known for his work with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell and his own band, Dio, died less than a year after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. He was 67.
“Today my heart is broken. Ronnie passed away at 7:45 a.m.,” Wendy Dio’s statement reads. “Many, many friends and family were able to say their private goodbyes before he peacefully passed away.
“Ronnie knew how much he was loved by all. We so appreciate the love and support that you have all given us. Please give us a few days of privacy to deal with this terrible loss. Please know he loved you all and his music will live on forever.”
With his powerful signature vocals and doom-laden lyrics, Dio fronted several iconic bands during his career: Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and, of course, Dio. In 2009, he released The Devil You Know LP with the outfit Heaven and Hell, which featured the same lineup as the post-Ozzy Osbourne incarnation of Sabbath that he fronted in the early 1980s.
Possessed with one of the most recognizable voices in rock music, Dio’s onstage theatrics (swords, mock dragon slaying), medieval themes and cool stage presence helped win the adulation of generations of metal fans and musicians, including mainstream figures like Jack Black and Dave Grohl. Contemporary “metalcore” band Killswitch Engage regularly covers Dio’s “Holy Diver” in their live set, even going so far as to release a lovingly campy music video in homage.
Dio is credited with popularizing (if not inventing) the “devil horns” hand gesture used by everyone from the darkest of death and black metal acts to pop stars, athletes and professional wrestlers. Dio often said he got the symbol — the “Malocchio” or “Evil Eye” — from his Italian grandmother.
Born Ronald James Padavona in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Dio released his first record in 1958 with the group Ronnie & the Red Caps. It wasn’t until a few years after that single’s release that he adopted his stage name, inspired by New York mafia figure Johnny Dio. A later band, the Electric Elves, evolved into Elf. Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore recruited Dio and some of his Elf bandmates when he formed Rainbow in 1975; Dio released three landmark studio albums and a live LP with the band.
Personal differences drove Dio from Rainbow and in 1979, he replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath. His first album with the group, 1980’s Heaven and Hell, ended the heavy metal originators’ creative slump with gusto and effectively reinvented the band, a streak continued with Mob Rules the following year. However, divisions within the group came to a head during the mixing of 1982’s Live Evil.
Taking drummer Vinny Appice with him, Ronnie formed his own band, called simply Dio. The title track from 1983’s Holy Diver would become one of his most recognized and definitive songs. The Last In Line (1984), like the album before it, went platinum in the US. Over the following 20 years, Dio continued to record and tour, releasing the band’s 10th studio album, Master of the Moon, in 2004.
A short-lived reunion with Black Sabbath in the early ’90s produced the album Dehumanizer in 1992, before Ozzy’s eventual return to the band. In 2006, Dio reunited with his former Sabbath-mates to write and record a handful of new tracks for inclusion on the Black Sabbath: The Dio Years collection. The chemistry between Dio, Appice, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler resulted in the formation of Heaven and Hell (so titled for a number of reasons, not least to avoid confusion with the more recent Osbourne-fronted versions of Black Sabbath).
Heaven and Hell released Live from Radio City Music Hall, a celebration of the Dio-era Sabbath songbook, in 2007. The Devil You Know, their first studio album under the new monicker, followed last year.
In November of 2009, Dio’s wife and manager Wendy announced that Ronnie had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Several rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments followed. Earlier this month, Heaven and Hell announced the cancellation of a planned summer tour of Europe owing to Dio’s condition.
In April, Dio appeared at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards in Los Angeles to accept the award for Best Vocalist. As members of Alice in Chains presented the award to him, the crowd chanted, “Dio! Dio! Dio! Dio!”
What are your memories of Ronnie James Dio and his musical legacy? Let us know in the comments below.