When an artist has a career as long and legendary as that of heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio, who died Sunday after battling stomach cancer, the influence can be felt by generations of musicians. The singer — who fronted Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell and his own band, Dio, over the years — was remembered by many musicians in the hours after his death was announced on Sunday, including members of Slipknot, Slayer, Anthrax and others .
Yet Metallica’s Lars Ulrich wrote an extremely heartfelt, personal and lengthy letter to Dio posted on Metallica’s official website, drummer recalling seeing Dio’s band Elf opening for Deep Purple in Denmark in 1975.
“Dear Ronnie, I just got off stage in Zagreb. I was met with the news that you’ve passed on,” he wrote. “I’m kind of in shock, but I wanted you to know that you were one of the main reasons I made it onto that stage to begin with. When I first saw you in Elf, opening for Deep Purple in 1975, I was completely blown away by the power in your voice, your presence on stage, your confidence, and the ease with which you seemed to connect to 6000 Danish people and one starry-eyed 11 year old, most of whom were not familiar with Elf’s music. The following year, I was so psyched when I heard the results of you joining forces with my favorite guitar player [Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple to form Rainbow with Dio in 1975]. You guys sounded so right for each other and I instantly became Rainbow’s #1 fan in Denmark.
“In the fall of 1976, when you played your first show in Copenhagen, I was literally in the front row and the couple of times we made eye contact you made me feel like the most important person in the world. The news that you guys were staying in town on your day off somehow embedded itself in my brain and I made the pilgrimage to the Plaza Hotel to see if I could somehow grab a picture, an autograph, a moment, anything. A few hours later you came out and were so kind and caring … pictures, autographs and a couple minutes of casual banter. I was on top of the world, inspired and ready for anything.
“When we finally got a chance to play together in Austria in 2007,” the post continues, “even though I may not have let on, I was literally transformed back to that little snot-nosed kid who you met and inspired 31 years earlier and it was such a f—ing honor and a dream come true to share a stage with you and the rest of the legends in Heaven and Hell. A couple of weeks ago when I heard that you were not going to be able to make it to the Sonisphere shows that we would be sharing this June, I wanted to call you and let you know that I was thinking of you and wish you well, but I kind of pu—ed out, thinking the last thing you needed in your recovery was feeling obligated to take a phone call from a Danish drummer/fan boy. I wish I’d made that call.
“We will miss you immensely on the dates, and we will be thinking of you with great admiration and affection during that run. It seemed so right to have you out on tour with the so-called ‘Big Four’ since you obviously were one of the main reasons that the four bands even exist. Your ears will definitely be burning during those two weeks because all of us will be talking, reminiscing and sharing stories about how knowing you has made our lives that much better.
“Ronnie, your voice impacted and empowered me, your music inspired and influenced me, and your kindness touched and moved me. Thank you. Much love, Lars”