On May 16, 2010, Ronnie James Dio passed away after a long battle with stomach cancer. He was sixty-seven years old.
It goes without saying that the man was an absolute legend in the realm of heavy metal, and that his undeniable spirit will be wholeheartedly missed. Though difficult, some members of the MR staff have paid tribute to his memory with the following words of gratitude, for both the man and his indelible work.
How do you put into words a proper tribute to a man whose career in music stretches back to a time before heavy metal even existed? A man whose role in shaping our beloved genre is so pivotal, so massive, that without him we know our world would have been a lot less…magical. Less fantastical.
I’m not one to be at a loss for words very often, but when a card this heavy gets dealt my way, I have a difficult time figuring out how to properly play the hand. Hopefully, the idea of “stream of conscious” writing will somehow manage to deliver to readers just how much the life and massive voice of Ronnie James Dio means to me. And I purposely and emphatically choose the present tense of the word “mean,” by the way, because as trite as it may sound, Ronnie James Dio has left a catalogue of work that will undoubtedly ensure his life and passion for soulful hard rock and heavy metal music will never be something relegated to “past tense.” His unmistakable call will be heard for the rest of the Earth’s days — long after I’m gone, long after you’re gone and long after your children’s children are gone. That, my friends, is the definition of a true icon. But trying to figure out how to put my thoughts to paper is killing me right now, so understand that the filter is being turned off, and my emotion level is pretty high right about now. We’ve just lost our dearly beloved friend, Ronnie James Dio, and my heart is considerably heavy because of it.
After laboring several hours over the best way to approach putting my thoughts to paper, I remembered a wise man once told me, when overwhelmed with grief and the prospect of eulogizing someone close to your heart, it’s best to turn to a story…
Back when I was a kid — about thirteen years old — I went to a state fair with a friend of mine to wander about and blow two weeks worth of grass-cutting money on sights, rides and all the rotten food a kid could stuff into his face. It was a very significant time in my life, not only because of the awkwardness and impact those early teen years often deliver, but also due to the impending iron-grip friendship I soon found myself locked into with heavy metal the following year. But before I ever laid down my allowance for my first true heavy metal record, I stepped up to an innocuous “dime-pitch” under a tent and magically tossed across a winner in my first 10-minutes at that little state fair. Even the kid working the other side of the counter looked surprised as hell, but there lay the 10-cent evidence precariously on the edge of one of many glass plates — “Give that kid a prize.”
What did I choose? No giant stuffed rabbit horking a foam carrot for this metal fan in the making. No, sir. My eye hooked immediately on the blazing Holy Diver rock ‘n’ roll mirror propped gingerly up alongside the many Molly Hatchets and Michael Stanley Bands, and it was all mine for the taking. Thinking back on it, I must have stared at that thing in my nervous hands for a half-hour as I wondered how I’d ever get such an immoral work of mirrored art up the stairs to my soon-to-be hidden altar tucked inside the recesses of my bedroom closet. But by Hell, I was a determined little feller. And thus began my now life-long friendship with the man behind the music that would ardently drift from my stereo speakers and headphones over the course of the next 25 long years. And despite how unbelievably heavy-hearted I feel right now with his passing, I know for a fact that my friend Ronnie James Dio will be with me until the day I eventually Ride the Tiger to the Great Beyond. I don’t give a shit if that sounds dramatic or cheesy to people. Wanna see a grown man finally break down and cry? Tell him one of his heroes has just died.
In the end, I suppose one thing I’ll always lament is never having the opportunity to meet the man in the flesh; to shake his hand and let him know, eye-to-eye, that his voice and presence has had a huge impact on my life. And the real beauty of it is, I know in my heart-of-hearts that given the opportunity and time, Dio would have loved nothing more than to sit with each and every one of his fans to thank them for the impact they’ve had on his life. That’s the kind of Heavy Metal Hero Ronnie James Dio is. And he will be sorely, sorely missed.
Positive thoughts and deepest condolences go out to Ronnie’s wife, Wendy, and the rest of his family. I know they probably realize the burden of grief is being carried on many, many shoulders, but I can only imagine how they must be feeling during this dark time. Hopefully they’ll be able to tread forward easier knowing so much of the world will continue celebrating this wonderful man and his gift each time we hear that incredible, incredible voice.
Rest in peace, Ronnie James Dio.
With love and utmost respect,
I remember the first Dio song I ever heard. It was “Rock ‘n’ Roll Children,” and to this day, it remains my favorite Dio tune, for nostalgic reasons as much as because it simply rocks. I remember exactly where I was when I heard it–in the back of my dad’s truck, sitting in the parking lot of a local grade school where my dad and my cousin were playing one-on-one basketball whilst Unathletic Me rocked out solo with my ugly yellow Walkman. Physically, I was there in the truck, but yet emotionally, I was far away, somewhere where it was blinding with snow on the night that they screamed goodbye.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Ronnie James Dio forever changed the world of popular music–not just metal, nor even just rock’n’roll, although certainly those two first and foremost. From the most die-hard denim-and-leather metalhead to the lame teen pop-star throwing the horns without knowing why, we each owe a debt to the diminutive fellow with the huge pipes, the veritable definition of “larger than life.” The emotion he brought forth in that inimitable voice was as epic as the dragons and swords he often sang about. The songs that he brought us have become legendary.
I never met the man, of course, but his composure in interviews was enough to prove that he was both a brilliant vocalist and a genuinely great human being. The world was better for having had Ronnie James Dio within it, and we’re all better for having heard and loved the incredible music he made, from Elf to Rainbow to Black Sabbath to Dio to Heaven & Hell.
Rest in peace, Ronnie James, and thank you.
And we’ll sail on, sing your songs, carry on… ’cause you rock.
About two or three years ago, I had a buddy that was couch-surfing his way through the United States. Duder dropped in, immediately powered up his laptop, and started throwing stuff into my network drive like some kinda avant-garde Johnny Appleseed. Among the seeds and stems, he sneaked in two Ronnie Dio & the Prophets bootlegs like it was a secret heavy metal handshake. When he left, my brother-in-law and I sat by the speakers and talked shop while the ones and zeros were pulled off the hard drive platter. We never really chatted much, but when it came to mutual musical ground, we found time. We marveled at Dio’s innate ability to give every track a nuanced read and that he already had the pipes of a thick-dicked God only a few newly-sprouted hairs removed from puberty. I mean, yeah, musically it was second-rate, stuff that filled up the uncomfortable teenage silence at the Hop until the payola bands’ buses arrived. But Dio was dumping everything he had into these tracks, acting like once the producer hit the record button shit was going to be preserved forever so you might as well go the extra mile. I always got that from him, that the blood, sweat, and tears were entirely worth it if a few listeners got the tingles. More importantly, though, it facilitated one last great music convo for me and the bro of my bride; one last exhausting, mix-tape-makin’ tete a tete. After that, he moved out. Didn’t see him much after that, but I’ll always remember that night.
Another time, I was driving to Del Taco blasting Rainbow with my old roomie. Guy loved his metal with a sheen and a shine and thick coat of gurgles while I was digging up the butterflies of yore before they met the bottom of the boot owned by the Eckels of the “ironic” generation. We pulled up to the drive-thru and “Stargazer” hit that part where it sounds like a ballsier “Kashmir.” I looked over and he was spellbound, caught up in that brief moment of stasis before the verse reawakens, drops the hammer, and we’re back to that classic Blackmore groove. Watching him in that split second was spiritual, like the wheels of his mind clicked into place, and heavy fucking metal endorphins spilled out of his receptors like a broken fire hydrant. From that point, we traded the trad, turning our CD-Burners into something outta the head of H.G. Wells. I don’t see him much anymore, either, but the discs that were burned are still primo.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is this: people are going to tell you that Ronnie James Dio was one of the most important figures in metal, and he was. People are going to tell you that without him, we probably wouldn’t be gathering at ol’ MetalReview dot com to analyze the genre that continues to hit new shores because of his tidal wave, and that’s true. And, you know that they’re going to sum up his life one hit at a time and point out that he was one of the good ones; that in a world of insular, preening dickheads, he really cared about the people that filled out the grass seats on every tour. But, to me, he’s always going to be the guy that brought me closer to some folks I never would’ve connected with otherwise. We were able to get there because we knew the common lingo of metal and he was the invisible force that guided those with metal in their hearts together for a damn good time. Pretty sure he’d throw up the horns for that.
So, right now, this totally sucks. Believe me, I’m there with you. It’s like an uncle has ditched me for the great beyond via one of the cruelest ways possible. But, I know Dio is gonna live on in the space between power chords, in the vibrato of the true, and in the hearts of the many. And, beyond that, he’s the common thread that stitches the varied patches of this quilt together. Dio’s tunes are so ingrained in the spirit of metal, of what metal was, is, and forever will be, that he’ll always be the unifier of those that set foot in this vast country of ours that keeps expanding its borders, swallowing up and naturalizing new permutations and cultures of this irreplaceable sound every new day. Seriously, I can’t think of a better legacy than that. And like some kinda dragon-riding Tom Joad, every time two metalheads get together, Ronnie James Dio will be there. Count on it. Thanks for being there when I needed you, dude.
Ronnie James Dio may have only stood five feet three inches tall, but in talent he was a titan, the likes of which we will not see stride the earth again. The vivid fantasy imagery that was his trademark is often the object of mockery and derision for metal’s critics, but fuck them. In the misty morning, on the edge of time, with Dio’s mighty voice to bear me aloft, I will sail across the air until the day I die. \m/
Like countless others, Holy Diver was the catalyst to my eventual surrender, heart and soul, to heavy metal. It was the voice that sealed the deal, a voice that intimidated and fascinated me like no other sound that had ever graced my ears at that time, and as the years passed I recognized the true greatness and power of Ronnie James Dio. Even though I don’t possess a vast collection of his work, to ignore what he’s done for the metal community with his intelligent articulation, fierce devotion to his craft, and of course, a voice that towered far above him, is unacceptable. This is a terrible loss, and we have been robbed of someone very special.
This doesn’t hit as close to home with me as it might for some of my fellow writers, and their pain is quite evident, but each and every one of us who were touched by Ronnie James Dio should be thankful we lived in a time of such an exceptional performer. He was a kind soul who never let his legendary status get in the way of appreciating and connecting with his fans, and this isn’t something people will be getting over very quickly. But something tells me Ronnie James wouldn’t harshly object to a rich high-octane pint o’ brew being raised in his honor, so while typing this through bleary eyes, I am doing so.
A toast to The Man, and to all he blessed us with. Celebrate his life, and please respect him in death. Thank you, RJD, for the magnificent story you shared with us all. I am forever grateful.
You will read many accounts of the greatness of Ronnie James Dio – his voice; his career; and the experiences fans have had with his music. So I’ll leave those words to other writers. What I will try to do, and ultimately fail at doing, is to give you my perspective on why the loss of Dio weighs on us so mightily.
We don’t have much experience losing our heroes. As a young genre, we simply haven’t lived through the life spans of our stars, and none shone more brightly than RJD. His music has been a lifelong constant in the history of nearly all metal fans. The spirit of the man, his voice, and his music have stood for decades as defining examples of not only excellence, but of the spirit, vitality, and purity of metal. A North Star; a constant reminder; a guide along the path from tradition to modernity…
I sometimes talk, only half jokingly, about people’s boxes of ‘primary colors’ crayons, referring to the bands, styles, and eras that we each fall in love with during our formative years, and how that experience forms a framework (a range of colors) for how we understand and value metal during our lives as fans. All things we love are born from those roots. Obviously, much of the differences are generational, and for old dogs like me, love for Dio is as universal as it gets. But his body of work has spanned so many years, and his best work is so timeless, that for generations the voice of Ronnie James Dio has been as important as any voice in traditional metal. There’s not a person in all of metal that’s more universally respected as a talent. And in a musical form where universals just don’t seem to apply, that is a true testament. So when you combine such strong personal history with an artist in a genre that’s so intensely personal and passionate by its very nature, it’s no wonder losing such a central figure is so difficult.
The man gave us an irreplaceable gift. I could never put a value on what his work with Sabbath, Rainbow, and his early solo albums have added to my life. He’s been there. For decades and decades he’s been a legend and a reminder of what’s pure in metal. The man will be missed, but his work will continue to provide that North Star presence. Ever present, shining brighter than the rest, and keeping us moving forward. He did the right thing. And he did it like no other. Thank you my friend.
“I’ll give you a star, so you’ll know just where you are” – RJD
Incomparable. To me, that is Ronnie James Dio in one word, perhaps more so than almost any other artist of any style, metal or not, music or not. His monumental talent (THE voice), natural mystique, and absolutely phenomenal body of work all made him a legend in my eyes from an early age, and he still amazes me all of these years later. Dio made replacing Ozzy seem easy; he outshined Ritchie Blackmore in his own band; he single-handedly gave heavy metal its universal symbol. However, all of these take second billing to the trait that will make me miss him the most: the unflinching class and intelligence that he applied to every song, note inflection, concert, and interview. This made him more metal in my eyes, not less, and as a result, listening to “Stargazer” while writing this is proving to be a good deal more emotional than I predicted. There are sure to be many more such moments over the foreseeable future (“All the Fools Sailed Away” is proving such; dammit, so is “Heaven And Hell”).
The stock of heavy metal always rises gradually, with continual expansions and artistic improvements ensuring the immortality of the music. But on May 16th, 2010, the heavy metal stock undoubtedly closed at a lower net worth. Ronnie, you will be missed and never replaced. Long live rock and roll.
The weight is palpable, an unexplainable, un-malleable knot in the stomach. This is an awfully strange moment, the one we are all in right now. What does it mean when the seemingly immortal die?
I don’t have heroes. It’s because I learned a long time ago that every man is just a man. He lives to eat, shit, fuck, the same as any other, even if his means may vary. I do, though, recognize that some rise to be better men than others within their circles and this affords them for me a feeling that resonates beyond idolatry. Where my circle overlaps with theirs, even a little, it is this few for whom I have a deep respect. Ronnie James Dio was among these. I recognize this man for his unwavering devotion to the spiritual medium of Heavy Metal and the big Fuck You it rammed down the throats of those that feared its furious freedom. Irrepressibly iconoclastic, he fearlessly inverted the symbols of spiritual oppression to generate strength in the hearts of marginalized kids, where he recognized it may otherwise never bloom.
With regularity for many years and no matter the reason for whatever rage I was choking down on a given adolescent day, Dio’s music made clear he knew the anger, the weakness, the fear that weighed on me. Somehow, he made me believe that he was right there with me sharing it. And I believe to this day that he was. I understand that as kids we draw the outside world into our own, attaching our own meaning to everything we touch, but Ronnie James knew this, too, better than most and spoke to us so clearly through that understanding, even into his last days. Listening to those early records, for at least the runtime, I always feel strong, indomitable, limitless. Man, there’s very little from those years that I remember to be more empowering than raising frustrated fists with friends and screaming “We Rock!” Fade out. Rewind. Press play.
That connection is Dio’s legacy for me. He knew his audience as well as any other artist ever, because he always remembered that he was still out there in that crowd. He never forgot that every note he ever belted out added one more everlasting strand to the nexus with his fans. And for all the impact he had on metal and rock-and-roll broadly, double it per individual touched by his lyrics, his sense of wonder and mystery, usually conveyed with tales of foreboding and fantasy, but always making contact within; a communion of magic with flesh and blood.
While heroes to me amount to little more than a nice idea, I bow in deepest deference to a man whose music allowed me the realization that the strength I needed was within me all along. I am sure he catalyzed infinitely greater power in those with whom he was close and my heart goes out to them now with the hope that they find that strength in this difficult time.
Rest well, Mr. Dio, and may your circle stay unbroken.
Friedrich Nietzsche once boldly proclaimed, “God is dead.” The meaning of that statement was echoed with the equally impactful headline, “Ronnie James Dio Passes.” The news hit me like Ivan Putski’s Polish Hammer, and the pain sunk in and lingered like a Killer Kowalski claw hold to the gut. Sometimes we build someone up and love them to the point where we truly believe they are immortal. Dio ranked among the elite of metal gods. Immortals, gods . . . they can’t die, can they? Despite all of the supporting evidence, I’m still finding the news hard to believe.
It is impossible to pinpoint the exact moment that Ronnie James Dio entered my life. Did I catch “Holy Diver” on Headbanger’s Ball? Was it the big news that he had rejoined Black Sabbath for Dehumanizer? Could it have been Henry Rollins extolling the virtues of Dio on Talking From the Box? (“Walk Away” will never sound the same after that.) Hell, it could have been hearing “Black” off of Angry Machines! It really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that once I heard that voice, my life, like millions of others, would never be the same.
Seeing Dio live for the first time on the Magica tour was a revelation. At the time, he was pushing 60, and I was amazed at how even at that age, he was so charismatic. He commanded that stage and had everyone in attendance in complete rapture.He also brought an infant from the crowd onto the stage and proclaimed him the future of heavy metal. The child’s barely-developed hands were already throwing the horns.
I was fortunate enough to meet the man twice. The first time was a backstage meet-and-greet during his tour opening for The Scorpions and Deep Purple. I waited patiently as Dio and his bandmates walked around this area talking to each and every person gathered there. When he reached my place in line, I was amazed at just how nice of a guy he was. Completely gracious and good-natured. At that moment, I honestly believed that there was no place else he would rather be. He even took the time to record a station ID for my radio show. I’ve gotten many of these over the years, but to this day, his remains the one I am most proud of.
The second time was in 2004 during a headlining tour with Anthrax. Despite waiting for over two hours after the show had ended, I was still excited to get back there. See, a few weeks prior, my dad had questioned me about the origins of the horns. Although I passed along the familiar story Dio that had told many times, I was going to take the chance to get it directly from him. I felt sort of silly asking about it but had a good laugh with him as I explained that my dad of all people had asked about it. Oh, my friend and I got our picture taken with him, too.
What else can I say? I went to great lengths to see Heaven and Hell three times because Dio-fronted Sabbath was worth it. The Devil You Know was proof that he still had so much to offer the world. It’s a shame that there will not be a follow up because I believe that that lineup had at least one more truly classic album left in their tanks.
I take some solace in knowing that Ronnie James Dio will live on through his music. It’s an oft-used cliché, but it seems to hold truer than ever with Dio. That voice will never die. From Ronnie Dio and the Prophets to Elf to Rainbow to Black Sabbath to Dio and back to Sabbath as Heaven and Hell, his voice was so full of life and his vocals so powerful, it’s like he will always be singing directly to each and every one of us.
Long live rock and roll.
Long live Ronnie James Dio.
You came to earth before our time,
You changed our lives with your thoughts and rhymes.
Forever will your legacy live,
To you, these few weak words we give:
Although we never met, you were still a friend.
Our broken hearts, your melodies helped mend.
You helped us realize there’s more to life,
Than endless struggle and everyday strife.
You’re in a better world and for this I’m glad,
But now you’re gone and still We’re sad.
For all of those whom you didn’t know,
You’ve given us a chance to grow.
A higher communication you did start,
You’ve helped us love and opened our hearts.
Countless musicians – infinite souls,
You helped a world of music reach higher goals.
And when life in this world seems nothing but grim,
We’ll remind ourselves of your melodies and hymns.
Which allow us to long for a better place,
Hoping one day we’ll again see your face.
And hear the words you softly sang,
The echoing chorus that within us rang.
Now is your time, go and catch your star
A light in the black beckons from afar.
Ride to the sun, via stars and sea,
And rest in peace, eternally.