Seminal heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio — the voice for Elf, Blackmore’s Rainbow, Black Sabbath, his own band Dio and, most recently, Heaven & Hell — has lost his battle with stomach cancer, passing away Sunday at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston.
Dio was 67 years old and had been battling the disease since his wife and manager, Wendy Dio, announced his condition on Nov. 25.
There were erroneous reports of his death on Saturday — Wendy Dio posted a note on the singer’s official website declaring “I am at the hospital and Ronnie has NOT passed away!!!” — but on Sunday afternoon she announced his death, saying that: “Today my heart is broken. Ronnie passed away at 7:45 a.m….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.”
Fans are being encouraged to post condolences on Dio’s official Facebook page.
Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian told Billboard.com on Sunday that, “Ronnie was the nicest man in metal. Every day on tour he’d have a kind word, a smile and a clap on the back. I feel honored and privileged to even have shaken hands with Ronnie let alone be able to say we were friends. The world truly is a lesser place today. Long live rock & roll.”
Dio’s death brings an end to a prolific and accomplished hard rock career that spanned 53 years and established Dio as one of the leading voices of his genre. With a powerful vocal delivery that belied his 5-foot-2 build, he was considered “a king, one of the greatest voices of our time and a prototypical headbanger,” according to Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. Dio leaves behind a litany of hits — from “Man on the Silver Mountain” by Blackmore’s Rainbow to “The Mob Rules” and “Heaven and Hell” with Black Sabbath and his own “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark.” Dio also helmed Hear ‘n Aid, the all-star hard rock band to raise money for African famine relief, and its 1985 single “We’re Stars.”
He was also credited with popularizing the “devil’s horn” hand gesture common to heavy metal and frequently employed gothic and Satanic imagery in his work, but Dio claimed he was actually “brought up with good values from my folks — respect your elders, it’s a lot easier to say ‘please,’ that kind of stuff” while growing up in Cortland, N.Y. Nevertheless, Dio — who was born Ronald James Padavona in Porstmouth, N.H. — was an acknowledged trouble-maker, wearing long hair well before it was accepted and dumping soap suds in the high school swimming pool. “Anything that would go wrong I was always blamed for,” he said.
His parents urged him to go to college, and he did study pharmacy at the University of Buffalo. But music was always his primary calling, starting with trumpet and then guitar and bass — all of which he played in his high school band, the Vegas Kings. He eventually took over on lead vocals, changing the group name to Ronnie & the Redcaps, then Ronnie Dio (the surname came from Mafioso Johnny Dio) and the Prophets and finally, in 1967, to the Electric Elves, which was shorted to the Elves two years later and finally became Elf in 1970.
After Elf toured with Deep Purple in the mid-’70s, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore tapped Dio to sing for his new band, Rainbow, in 1975. “That was a big change,” Dio remembered. “Elf was my band…Rainbow was Ritchie’s band. Without his reputation, we wouldn’t have had the instant recognition we did. But my part was an important one. I made as many decisions, called as many shots as he did.”
Dio left Rainbow in 1979 and moved to Black Sabbath to replace Ozzy Osbourne. He wound up spending three tenures with the group — leaving in 1982 and returning, briefly, in 1991 before re-joining again in 2006, when the band took the new name Heaven and Hell. “I’ve always enjoyed playing with these guys,” Dio said at the time, referring to Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Terry “Geezer” Butler. “We don’t always get along, but we make some really great music together, so that always draws me back.”
He launched the Dio band in 1993, after his first departure from Sabbath. During the intervening years the Dio band released 10 studio albums — the most recent being “Master of the Moon” in 2004 — and went through 16 members, including such notables as Quiet Riot bassist Rudy Sarzo, current Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell, Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell drummer Vinny Appice, Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain, Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson and Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich.
“I love what I do and I have no plans to stop — maybe ever,” Dio once said. “I’m a very fortunate person; I’m able to be successful by doing what I want to do — by being myself, you can say.”
Funeral arrangements are pending and expected to be announced soon.