Ronnie James Dio was an American singer, songwriter and composer, best known for fronting numerous legendary bands through the years, including Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell and his own band, DIO.
Though his parents were from Cortland, New York, Ronnie was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where his family resided for his father’s service in the U.S. Army during World War II. They soon returned to Cortland. Ronnie’s musical career began in 1957 as part of the Vegas Kings (later Ronnie and The Rumblers). In 1967 he formed the band Elf, which became a regular opening act for Deep Purple. In 1975, Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore founded the band Rainbow and hired Ronnie to be the lead singer. During his tenure, the band released three now legendary studio albums. Dio quickly emerged as one of heavy rock’s pre-eminent vocalists. In 1979, Dio replaced Ozzy Osbourne as Black Sabbath’s lead singer and appeared on three successful studio albums. In 1982, Ronnie left Black Sabbath to form his own band, Dio, which went on to sell over 20 million records worldwide.
Ronnie is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal artists of all time, and is known for popularizing the “Metal Horns” hand gesture used worldwide in the metal and rock culture. Ronnie has said he adopted the hand gesture from his Italian grandmother who would often use the gesture to ward off the evil eye, (known in Italy as Maloik).
In 1985 Ronnie organized the Hear ’n Aid project; the metal world’s answer to other charities, such as Band Aid and USA For Africa. The Hear ’n Air project and charity album raised over 2 million dollars within a year for famine relief in Africa.
Ronnie’s career spanned more than 50 years, while selling over 50 million records. During this period he received numerous distinctions and awards. He was inducted into the Cortland City Hall of Fame in 2004 and a street was named after him, called “Dio Way”. Classic Rock Magazine awarded Ronnie the “Metal Guru Award” at their yearly Roll of Honour Awards ceremony in 2006. In 2007, Ronnie was inducted into the Hollywood Rock Walk, where Ronnie’s handprints were forever immortalized into the cement in front of Guitar Center on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, CA. Ronnie was named the “Best Metal Singer” at the 2010 Revolver Golden Gods Awards for his work on Heaven and Hell’s The Devil You Know album. Ronnie accepted the award in person at what was to be his final public appearance, just one month before his passing.
After Heaven and Hell had to cancel their appearance at the Bloodstock Open Air Festival in the UK due to Ronnie’s death, the festival went on to name their main stage after Ronnie, in honor. The Masters of Rock Festival has also carried Ronnie’s name since 2010.
On October 23, 2010, the city of Kavarna, Bulgaria unveiled a massive bronze statue of Ronnie in the heart of their central park. Constructed of bronze and stone, the statue serves as a meeting place for many fans, who gather at the location on Ronnie’s birthday to celebrate his music and legacy.
In 2010 the city council declared May 30th to be “Ronnie James Dio Day” in Los Angeles.
Two weeks after Ronnie’s death, a public memorial service was held at The Hall of Liberty, Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, in Los Angeles. The hall was filled to capacity, with many more fans sitting outside the hall watching the memorial on multiple giant screens on both the east and west sides.
Rolling Stone Magazine eulogized Ronnie with these words: “It wasn’t just his mighty pipes that made him Ronnie James Dio – it was his moral fervor.. what always stood out was Dio’s raging compassion for the lost rock & roll children in his audience. Dio never pretended to be one of the kids – he sang as an adult assuring us that we weren’t alone in our suffering, and some day we might even be proud of conquering it”.
When Ronnie’s voice was silenced in 2010 at the hands of gastric cancer, his countless fans around the world channeled their grief into thousands of dollars in donations in his memory. The result was the creation of the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund. To date, the fund as raised over $2,000,000 and donated funds to the cancer research work of the T.J. Martell Foundation and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, where Ronnie was treated during the last six months of his life. More recently, the Dio Cancer Fund has committed monies to a research project at UCLA’s School of Dentistry to develop a ground-breaking non-invasive saliva test for early cancer detection and will continue to support organizations that are committed to cancer research and education.
The Dio Cancer Fund continues to host annual charity events to raise funds for cancer research, such as a celebrity bowling tournament called the Bowl for Ronnie, and the Ride For Ronnie, where hundreds of bikers ride across Los Angeles for charity to a park where thousands more fans gather for an afternoon of live music to celebrate Ronnie’s legacy.
I could have been a dreamer,
I could have been the one to fly.
I could have been a dreamer,
‘Cause dreamers never die.
– Ronnie James Dio