Ronnie James Dio, 67

Ronnie James Dio, onetime lead singer of Black Sabbath, dies at 67

Ronnie James Dio performs with British heavy metal group Heaven and Hell during the 41st Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
Ronnie James Dio performs with British heavy metal group Heaven and Hell during the 41st Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. (2007 Photo By Sandro Campardo/associated Press)
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By Wayne Parry
Monday, May 17, 2010

Ronnie James Dio, 67, whose soaring vocals, poetic lyrics, and mythic tales of a never-ending struggle between good and evil broke ground in heavy metal, died May 16 of stomach cancer. He was being treated at a Houston hospital, according to his Web site.

"Today my heart is broken," his wife and manager, Wendy Dio, wrote on the site. "Many, many friends and family were able to say their private goodbyes before he peacefully passed away."

Dio revealed last summer that he had stomach cancer, shortly after wrapping up a tour with the latest incarnation of Black Sabbath, under the name Heaven and Hell. Although he had recently undergone his seventh chemotherapy treatment, he was hopeful to perform again. Heaven and Hell canceled its summer tour this month, but Dio did not view being sidelined as a permanent thing.

"Wendy, my doctors and I have worked so hard to make it happen for all of you, the ones we care so much about, that this setback could be devastating, but we will not let it be," he said in a statement. "With your continued love and support, we . . . will carry on and thrive. There will be other tours, more music, more life and much more magic."

Dio rose to fame in 1975 as the first lead singer of Rainbow, a heavy metal band put together by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, who had just quit Deep Purple.

Dio then replaced legendary vocalist Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath in 1980 with the critically acclaimed album "Heaven and Hell," considered by many critics to be one of the finest heavy metal albums of all time. His on-again, off-again tenure with Black Sabbath touched off an intense debate among fans as to which singer was the true essence of the band -- a discussion that lasted until his death.

He also had a successful solo career with his self-titled band, Dio, in between his three stints with Black Sabbath (1980-82, 1992 and 2007-09, when the band toured as Heaven and Hell, to differentiate it from Osbourne-led versions of Sabbath).

Many of his most memorable songs revolved around the struggle between good and evil, including his signature tune "Heaven and Hell." He also drew heavily on medieval imagery in songs such as "Neon Knights," "Killing the Dragon" and "Stargazer."

"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, whose band had toured with Dio since 1983 and was to do so this summer at European rock festivals. "He was the nicest, classiest person you would ever want to meet."

Dio organized an all-star charity collaboration in 1986 called Hear N' Aid to raise money for famine relief in Africa, styled on the We Are the World campaign of a few years earlier.

His solo hits included "Rainbow in the Dark," "The Last in Line" and "Holy Diver."

-- Associated Press

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