Women in Music 2016

'Dimebag' Darrell's Longtime Partner Rita Haney: 'He'd Actually Be Surprised at How Many People He Touched'

Will Ireland/Metal Hammer Magazine via Getty Images
Rita Haney on stage at the Golden Gods Awards, June 15, 2009. 

Ten years after the onstage shooting of Pantera legend "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, Billboard spoke with the guitar god's friends, family, and fellow rock icons about the hole the 38-year-old shredder's death left in metal and in their lives. Here, Abbott's life partner Rita Haney remembers her longtime companion.

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When did you and Dimebag first meet?

We were 8 years old. We grew up in the same neighborhood, and there was a dirt area where we used to ride our bikes. I can't remember what he said to me -- it was some ratty little thing kids say to each other -- but I pushed him off his bike. He was ten days older than me, but I was bigger than him at the time. [Laughs.] But we became friends after that!

So you knew him before he played guitar?

Oh, yes -- that wasn't for another three or four years. But we had KISS in common from the beginning.

His dad Jerry worked at a recording studio. What did his mother do?

She worked a lot of different jobs -- cleaning, assembly line, things like that. She had an incredible work ethic, which Darrell picked up from her. He was so much like his mom in so many ways, while [Dimebag's older brother] Vinnie [Paul] really took after their dad.

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Pantera started out playing more mainstream "hair metal," then switched to a heavier direction around the time Phil Anselmo joined the band. Do you remember what motivated that change?

Metallica had a lot to do with it. We saw them play some little place in Texarkana on the Kill ‘Em All tour, right after [guitarist] Kirk [Hammett] joined the band. There were maybe 30 people there and I was one of maybe three females. [Laughs.] We became friends with those boys and they were a big influence on Darrell.

It's funny, I had the early Pantera albums out just the other day, and Darrell's playing is really great on them, but you can hear all his favorite bands at the time in his playing -- KISS, Def Leppard, UFO. Their dad was their manager at the time, and he really wanted them to play safe -- play music that was commercial -- and Vinnie felt the same way. But when Philip joined the band, Darrell really had an ally for taking the band in a harder and more personal direction. And when [1990's] Cowboys [From Hell] came out, that was really all them.

Where did Darrell get the nickname "Dimebag"?

Anselmo gave it to him. He'd moved to Texas from New Orleans when he joined the band, totally committed, and he didn't really know anybody at first. He was always calling up Darrell to ask if he had any weed, or knew anyone who could get him some. One night, Darrell and Philip were getting stoned and Philip just started calling him "Dimebag" and it stuck!

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What was the story of Eddie Van Halen bringing the guitar to Dimebag's funeral?

I remember talking with Vinnie, trying to decide what guitar to bury him with. Three hours later, Eddie called to see if he could do anything for us and for Dime. We'd met him just a few weeks earlier for the first time, and Dime was ready to cut him a $30,000 check that night for one of his striped guitars, but Eddie told him he'd do one special for him. So I asked him if he'd stripe up a guitar for Darrell. He said, "One of the red, white and black ones?" And I said, "No -- Darrell always said that the yellow and black was your toughest guitar!"

When he came for the funeral, he brought his original yellow and black from 1979. He said, "An original should have an original."

We were walking down the hallway of the funeral parlor, me, Eddie and John "Bushman," who had been out with Damageplan as a tech -- he's the one who dragged Vinnie off the drum stand and threw himself on top of him to protect him. We got to the room where Dime was, and you could see [Abbott's] feet through the doorway. Eddie said, "I can't go in there, I can't see him like that -- I want to remember him like he was that night I met him." I said, "That's okay, Eddie -- we'll take it to him," so John and I went in and placed it with him.

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Zakk Wylde said there was plenty of Crown Royal and Seagrams 7 in his coffin as well.

There were so many things in there -- and people kept putting airplane bottles of Crown in there during the service. I was worried that the coffin stand was gonna collapse! [Laughs.] The pallbearers definitely complained about how heavy the coffin was. It was such a weird day, but the feeling of family was so wonderful. It was like Darrell was there, throwing one more party for everyone.

I remember Ozzy [Osbourne] and Sharon sent a beautiful arrangement made out of Crown Royal bags and the Slayer guys sent a flower arrangement in the shape of a Crown Royal bottle. It's so hard to believe it's been 10 years. The first three years or so after that were a definite blur. People would say things like, "Oh, it gets better after a year," but in many ways it never really does.

Is Dime being remembered the way he'd want to be?

I think he'd actually be surprised at how many people he touched. He has to be the most tatted guy ever -- I'm always seeing people with tattoos of him. Most photographed, too -- people are always showing me photos of them with Dime. People just really loved him and he loved them.