July 10th, 1942–May 16th, 2010
“NOOOO!!!!!” I yelled in despair as I saw the website headline: “Ronnie James Dio Passes Away From Stomach Cancer.”
I had heard that he was suffering from the condition, and he had visibly deteriorated physically from his various therapies. What made it surprising was that he looked to be improving and had started plans to head back out on the road with Heaven and Hell, his current band at the time. I had even seen him live only two years ago, and from his fiery performance you never would have guessed he was sick.
Dio has always been one of my favorites, my first exposure being his spectacular contributions to Black Sabbath on the “Heaven and Hell” album after Ozzy Osbourne’s departure. But his admirable stand-in is not his only claim to fame. Before that, he was the star vocalist of Rainbow, and after Sabbath he found his most successful outing with the band that bears his name, Dio. Between all three of those groups, Dio has been able to achieve a sustained, powerful influence on metal of all kinds.
Though quite short in stature, Dio’s voice is huge and unmistakable. Some would call his vocal style that of a “large ham” (affectionately, of course).
As I worked my way through the singer’s extensive catalogue of music on that day in remembrance, I saw how often his name popped up on masterpiece after masterpiece: “Rising,” “Long Live Rock and Roll,” “Heaven and Hell,” “The Mob Rules,” “Holy Diver,” “The Last In Line,” “Dream Evil,” and “The Devil You Know,” his latest project that would no longer continue.
What was truly unfortunate was not just Dio’s death itself, which was sad enough, but what happened afterwards. Although the tributes and eulogies came pouring in from the metal community (from Opeth to Megadeth), most of the music press simply couldn’t care less.
Rolling Stone magazine was the worst, deeming this legendary musician with a 50-year career, more than 50 million albums sold, and at least three certified classics under his belt as worthy of a few brief sentences on a back page. By contrast, Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston received front-page commemorative issues and primetime funeral spectacles that pulled out all the stops. That’s no disrespect to those two or to their heartbroken fans, but come on–be consistent.
Dio’s funeral and burial at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles was also marred by the appearance of the westboro baptist church, a truly evil group of people (and I don’t use that word lightly). These people picketed the funeral parlor proclaiming that Dio was presently burning in hell for his “blasphemous” ways. And although Ronnie’s widow Wendy and the fans in attendance showed grace and poise for the most part, it shouldn’t have happened. Whatever this group’s issue with him or his career, it should have taken backseat to his right to a dignified burial.
Unbelievably, the incident was largely unreported outside the metal community. If that happened at Whitney Houston’s funeral, you know exactly what would happen.
Dio did what many churches have failed to do, and that is offer hope and strength in times of trouble. His powerful, confident stage presence uplifted and inspired millions. Stories of his charity and kind-heartedness abound, and there is a cancer research foundation now bearing his name. For all this, he is most likely a better candidate for heaven than those who denounced him at his own funeral in front of family and fans.
And it may very well be that Dio’s passing allowed the circumstances to develop for the current reunion of the original Black Sabbath.
After a musician dies, there’s always one of those songs that takes on a special new meaning. For Dio fans, including me, that song is “I Could Have Been A Dreamer,” especially the line “dreamers never die.” And it’s true; they don’t…not really. Because the dreamer would want us to celebrate and carry on.
Nevertheless, it is with deep sadness that I write,
Dead at 68, RIP.
Written by Matt P