18 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Ronnie James Dio
Nine years ago today, we lost Ronnie James Dio to cancer, robbing the metal world of one of the greatest ever vocalists.
From his early days as a crooner in the early 60s, to Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his own band, his stunning vocals have shaped and influenced metal as we know it today.
So, to celebrate the legendary frontman’s life, we’ve done some deep digging to bring you some astounding Dio-shaped morsels…
1. Ronnie James Dio was 5’4, reportedly the same height as Michael J. Fox, Pablo Picasso and Glenn Danzig.
2. As a child, he learned the trumpet and his father made him have lessons for two hours every day. “He played on trumpet on stage with Gene Pitney when he was 15,” his widow Wendy told Loudwire. “He decided that he couldn’t pull girls playing the trumpet, so he taught himself how to play bass.”
3. Because heavy metal was not invented, Ronnie loved to listen to opera as a child and was a fan of Mario Lanza. “I couldn’t believe his incredible voice,” he told USA Today. “I wanted to use that aspect of vocalisation in the rock and roll context. I guess that’s the connection people see between my operatic style and music as heavy as possible.”
4. At his parents’ encouragement, Ronnie enrolled at the University Of Buffalo and studied pharmacology. He attended the school from 1960 to 1961 and played trumpet in the university band.
5. Dio is the Italian word for ‘God’, but he adopted his stage name from Italian-American mobster member Johnny Dio, whose real name was Giovanni Ignazio Dioguardi.
6. It’s widely known that Ronnie played bass and sang for the band Elf. But did you know that keyboardist and guitarist Doug Thaler went on to co-manage Mötley Crüe? Now you do.
7. Ronnie and his first wife Loretta Berardi adopted a son, Dan Padavona. He released his debut horror novel Storberry in 2014. “It is an old-school, throwback horror novel depicting a small Virginia town attempting to survive a vampire infestation,” Padavona told Blabbermouth. “It’s a combination of Nosferatu and Night of the Living Dead.”
8. During his first-ever jam with Black Sabbath in 1979, the band wrote Children Of The Sea, which would appear on the Heaven and Hell album, released a year later.
9. The video for Holy Diver was filmed in St Mark’s Church on London’s North Woolwich Road. It is now called the Brick Lane Music Hall and was voted ‘Britain’s Friendliest Venue’ by UK coach companies.
10. Ronnie described his parody on the South Park episode ‘Hooked On Monkey Fonics’ as “wonderful”. In the show, his band – described as a musical force of the ’70s and ’80s by Principal Victoria – perform Holy Diver at a school dance. “I initially didn’t want to let it be done because I felt that they were just going to crucify me [and] that I would end up being like what they did to Rod Stewart, and what they did to Elton John, and what they did to Ozzy. But they assured our office that they were real Dio fans and that I would like it. So I thought to myself, ‘Well, if you want to be an American icon, you better let them do it’. And they did, and I was knocked out. It was funny. I thought they were more cruel to the drummer, if anything else.”
11. Ronnie never touched drugs. “I saw how destructive it was, and how it dulled your sensibilities and ate up your talent and your life,” he revealed. “I was raised by great parents whose respect I never wanted to lose.”
12. In the 2001 song Dio, Tenacious D claimed that the rock legend was too old to rock at 59 years of age, and it was “time for him to pass the torch.” At the time of writing, Black is 49 years old, meaning the Kung Fu Panda star has just a decade left before he’s labeled a massive hypocrite by the rock community. Kyle Gass, meanwhile, has just 12 months.
13. Ronnie was originally signed up to provide the voice of Doviculus in the metal video game Brütal Legend, but was eventually replaced by Rocky Horror Picture Show star Tim Curry. No reasons were given for the decision. Their loss. Still, there’s always that 1989 Holy Diver platform game to sate your appetite.
14. As a lyrical master of all things swords and sorcery, Ronnie would be inspired to write while watching his beloved New York Giants on TV.
15. The vocalist was introduced to Indian food by Glenn Hughes and took to it like a duck to, um, curry. “He tried it and loved it and wouldn’t stop eating it,” remembers Wendy.
16. In the Manga series Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, the character Dio Brando – a British vampire – was named after the metal legend and actor Marlon Brando. From Part 3 on, he’s simply known as Dio.
17. Ronnie severed his thumb in a gardening accident in 2003 and revealed his first thought was how he was going to flash the horns on stage. “I was in my yard trying to place this garden gnome on a slope,” he explained. “This is a seriously heavy piece of garden ornament, probably 60lbs or so. Anyway, it fell over, I fell into the shrubbery and then began to slide down to the bottom of the hill. My hand landed on a rock, and the gnome landed on it, squashing my thumb between the rock and the gnome. I just looked at my hand and the first thought that flashed into my mind was, ‘How on earth am I going to make my devil horn sign now? That’s my trademark!’ I wasn’t worried about the injury, more concerned with my career. I’m thankful I still have my thumb and I can still do my horn sign.”
18. Following his death, his estate auctioned off exactly 666 of his belongings at Julien’s Auction in New York City in 2018. “I am glad that Ronnie’s extensive collection of items will go to his fans, museums and collectors around the world to be displayed for all to see and enjoy,” said Wendy. “These items are very special to me but I recognise the historical importance of anything to do with Ronnie and he would want his fans to be able to own, enjoy and see these items for many years to come.”
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