Ronnie James Dio, one of the distinctive voices of hard rock, is dead at the age of 67. Dio died Sunday morning after suffering stomach cancer. Dio’s wife and manager Wendy posted a note on his website Sunday afternoon saying, “Many, many friends and family were able to say their private good-byes 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.”
The diminutive singer, whose height was given as five-foot-four, was born Ronald James Padavona in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. His family moved to Cortland, New York early in his life. As a teenager he played in various rockabilly bands and took his stage name in 1961 for Ronnie Dio and the Prophets. When that band broke up in 1967, he and Prophets guitarist Nick Pantas started a new band called the Electric Elves, which became Elf in 1969 and went on to do shows opening for Deep Purple. Dio’s vocals caught the ear of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, who later formed Rainbow with Dio and other members of Elf. Dio sang on three Rainbow albums and is heard on tracks like “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Dio left Rainbow in 1978 and became Ozzy Osbourne’s replacement in Black Sabbath the following year. This version of Sabbath released two albums — Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules — before Dio and drummer Vinny Appice quit in 1982 to form the band Dio. That band’s first album, Holy Diver, was their most popular and contained the hit “Rainbow in the Dark.” Dio was the band’s only constant member over a 10-album career.
Dio rejoined Black Sabbath for the Dehumanizer album and tour in 1992, but quit again when the group agreed to open for Ozzy Osbourne at the end of his No More Tours Tour in November 1992. Dio worked with his Sabbath bandmates in 2006 to record three songs for a compilation called The Dio Years and followed it up with a tour in 2007, but for legal reasons they called themselves Heaven and Hell. The quartet released a studio album last year called The Devil You Know. Heaven and Hell had planned on touring this summer, but those plans were canceled earlier this month because of Dio’s health issues.
A visibly frail Dio made his last known public appearance at last month’s taping of the Revolver Golden Gods Awards at L.A.’s Club Nokia, where he won Best Vocalist for The Devil You Know. Accepting the award, he told the crowd, “It’s great to be back among people again. It’s been awhile, and I can’t wait to get back on stage again.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. The Revolver Golden Gods Awards will air for the first time this Saturday on VH1 Classic.
Dio’s other lasting contribution to hard rock culture is that he is credited for popularizing the “devil’s horn” hand symbol.
Dio is survived by Wendy (his second wife) and his adopted son Dan from his first marriage. –Steve Reynolds