The mammoth service for fiery frontman Ronnie James Dio was more akin to a spirited rock concert than a dreary funeral.
With chants of “Dio, Dio, Dio,” headbangers were loud and proud Sunday as they paid tribute to the late metal legend, who died from stomach cancer May 16 at age 67.
More than 1,200 fans commemorated Dio inside Forest Lawn Memorial Park’s Hall of Liberty. Hundreds more gathered in the scorching heat outside the auditorium to watch monitors of the proceedings, which featured performances from some of Dio’s rocker friends, including Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple, Geoff Tate of Queensryche and Paul Shortino of Quiet Riot.
More: Metal Comunity Pays Tribute to Dio
“He touched all of us with his music and his message and his magic,” said David Feinstein, Dio’s cousin and Elf bandmate. “I know that Ronnie truly loved all of you. He had a great appreciation for your loyalty. I’m talking about all you out there, all the fans.”
Those gathered remembered the feisty vocalist from such bands as Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell and the self-titled Dio as a passionate performer who was gracious on and off stage.
Many recalled Dio’s continued support over the years of Children of the Night, the teenage prostitution rehabilitation organization where his wife, Wendy, serves as chairman.
Dio revealed last summer that he was suffering from stomach cancer shortly after wrapping up a tour in Atlantic City, N.J., with the latest incarnation of Black Sabbath under the name Heaven and Hell.
Dio’s son, Dan Padavona, cautioned the memorial crowd to be screened regularly by a doctor and take care of themselves, something he said his father did not do.
“I beg you not to make the same mistake my dad made,” said Padavona. “For dad, the show always had to go on. He ignored the warning signs for years, and all along the cancer was growing and mutating from something that was probably easily defeatable into a monster which even Dio couldn’t slay.”
A few members of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrated outside of the park’s gates as hundreds of fans arrived to remember Dio, who made the “devil horns” hand gesture he learned from his Italian grandmother a heavy metal signature.
Members of the fundamentalist church said they opposed Dio because they believed he worshipped Satan.
Several musician friends of Dio celebrated the rocker by performing tunes that featured Dio’s signature howl.
Scott Warren of Heaven and Hell began the memorial with an arrangement of Dio’s “This is Your Life” on piano. John Payne of Asia crooned Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell.” Joey Belladonna of Anthrax wailed Rainbow’s “Man On The Silver Mountain.”
“He had that magic,” remembered Willie Fyfe, Dio’s longtime personal assistant. “He always called it magic. Once he had a crowd in his hands, that’s where they stayed until it was time to go, then he’d give them back, and walk off and do his thing. Bless him. He’s still doing that now, and the guy is in a coffin.”