Ronnie James Dio, the former Elf, Rainbow and Black Sabbath singer who often claimed credit for inventing metal’s chief hand gesture, the devil horns, has died at the age of 67, according to a statement from his wife and manager Wendy Dio. The Holy Diver mastermind revealed last fall that he’d been diagnosed with the early stages of stomach cancer. He had been undergoing immediate treatment at the Mayo Clinic.
“Today my heart is broken,” Wendy wrote in a message on Dio’s official website. She said Ronnie passed just before 8 a.m. today. “Many, many friends and family were able to say their private goodbyes before he peacefully passed away. 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.”
Dio, who was known for his high falsetto, imposing presence, and mythic lyricism, was forced to cancel a European tour soon after making the announcement about his health. In online messages to fans, he expressed his determination to kick the fatal disease, the second most common cause of cancer death worldwide. He had recently undergone his seventh chemotherapy treatment and was hoping to take the stage again soon. Heaven and Hell were forced to cancel their summer tour earlier this month.
While perhaps best known as Ozzy Osbourne’s Black Sabbath replacement, Dio first rose to prominence during the 1970s with Rainbow, the influential metal troupe featuring Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. He took over for Ozzy behind the Sabbath microphone stand in 1980. He recorded and released Heaven and Hell with Sabbath, an LP that is widely considered one of the genre’s defining moments.
He formed a solo band to keep him busy between his time with Black Sabbath, and experienced considerable success with songs like “Rainbow in the Dark” and “The Last in Line.” Tenacious D wrote a tribute song titled “Dio” to the wide-eyed singer, which appears on the band’s self-titled debut.
The news of Dio’s death was met with an outpouring of sorrow from the metal community, who, since the start of 2010, have lost two huge figures: Avenged Sevenfold drummer James “The Rev” Sullivan and Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele.
“Ronnie was a true leader of heavy metal… an icon and a visionary,” said Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath fame. “There will never be another like him. Ronnie gave me wisdom, and showed me great compassion when he was in Elf, all those years ago, when we were on tour together in my time in Deep Purple. He was a beautiful soul, kind, considerate and a wonderful teacher.”
“With the possible exception of Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio had the most definitively metal voice of any vocalist I can think of,” Chuck Klosterman, the author of Fargo Rock City, tells Rolling Stone. “Anybody who tries to caricature heavy metal singing is really just doing an imitation of what Dio did naturally. In fact, a lot of what casual rock fans associate with the teenage metal subculture — Dungeons & Dragons, the devil horn salute, black T-shirts, a casual obsession with superhuman evil — are really just extensions of the Dio persona. His cultural influence is vast. And if you go back and listen to those first two albums he did with Sabbath, his lyrical idea are pretty interesting and memorable. He took himself seriously and unseriously at the same time.”
Sebastian Bach wrote online that he’s “crying right now in remembrance of my hero and friend, Ronnie James Dio. He was a major, major part of my life. I got to do shows with him and work with him and I loved Dio my whole life.”
“He possessed one of the greatest voices in all of heavy metal, and had a heart to match it,” said Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French, who toured with Dio during the 1980s. “He was the nicest, classiest person you would ever want to meet.”