The private side of heavy metal icon Ronnie James Dio

Whether they realize it or not, millions of headbangers around the world have paid tribute to the late great Ronnie James Dio every time they raise their index and small fingers in the infamous “metal horns” salute at a concert.

ronnieripWhile he is widely credited with the invention (or, at the very least, popularization) of the iconic heavy metal music symbol, the Black Sabbath, Rainbow, and Dio vocalist never really fit the typical metal celebrity’s mold of debauchery and hedonism. While many future stars were learning to smoke and pissing off their parents by listening to Elvis, Dio preferred opera. When fellow band mates were getting loaded and banging groupies backstage, he could often be found on the phone with his wife or signing autographs late into the night.

As someone very close to Dio during those crazy years recently told me, family and fans were the rock star’s true passions.

“He really CARED about things,” my source told me during an interview. “He would stay after shows out by the tour bus to meet those that weren’t lucky enough to score a backstage pass, and he would sign their CDs and other stuff they brought for hours on end. He was a total gentleman, no matter how late it got or even if he was under the weather, which happened more than anyone would like to admit.”

When Dio passed away on May 16, 2010 from stomach cancer, he not only left behind a legacy of great music, but a lifetime of charity work and dedication to help the underdog, including the Children of the Night organization he worked very closely with.

Not surprisingly, the man behind the myth is often lost in the media hype. For instance, the notorious Westboro Baptist Church protested his funeral.

“The Westboro church protested across the street because of his reputation as a Satanist,” my source told me. “He was NOT! I think it is time the public knows what his true religious views were. It is quite simple; if anything, he was a Taoist. He believed in the good in everyone until they crossed him or someone else…no heaven or hell, and no Christian God. He had great respect for nature and humankind and the intrinsic worth of every human being on the planet. He viewed everyone as an equal, no matter how famous he got, and would openly say this when a fan was so nervous that he or she was shaking when they met him. He was humble to a fault. Even when he was complimented on what a great show he put on, he would tell the person that he messed up on certain things and then point them out.”

The man the world knew as Ronnie James Dio was born Ronald James Padanova in 1942. Without any formal musical training, his signature siren wail landed him a gig as vocalist with Ritchie Blackmore’s new band, Rainbow, in 1974. From there, he went on to his most famous stint as lead singer of Black Sabbath from 1979 until 1982. A successful solo career as frontman of his own band, Dio, dominated the 1980s and 90s, in addition to off-and-on reunions with the rest of Black Sabbath as the band Heaven and Hell from 2006 until his death.

“In all of those bands, the guys loved playing practical jokes on each other before a show, afterwards at the meet-and-greets backstage, or on the tour buses to amuse themselves. Everybody in Sabbath, Dio, or Heaven and Hell loved to laugh and have a good time. Jokes between friends were what it was all about. Of course, there was always plenty of wine and beer backstage, so sometimes things would get a bit to the absurd, but never too far out of line.

Click the photo above to hear Dio with his Black Sabbath counterparts in Heaven and Hell!

Click the photo above to hear Dio with his Black Sabbath counterparts in Heaven and Hell!

“He was very humble, and didn’t see himself as a ‘rock god’ at all. He was a passionate man that enjoyed everything he ever did. Making music was just something he LIKED to do. It was never a forced effort, or anything like what would be considered as a ‘job’; he would have done it whether he was famous or not, successful or not. That is how much he liked doing it. When you love what you do for a living it is not a job. You never work a day in your life!”

Dio believed in passing on a bit of that happiness he had found in the charities he became involved with, including cancer research organizations in his later years.

“He did a project back in the 80s called ‘Hear N Aid’ (metal’s answer to ‘Live Aid’). Everybody who was anybody at the time was in on this project. It raised at least a million dollars to feed hungry children, and adults in our own country where it was needed and appreciated.

“In the 80s, the Sunset Strip in L.A. was the place to be if you were a metalhead, rocker, performer, etc., but it was also riddled with young runaways that had to resort to prostitution to survive on the streets of L.A. Their lives were BRUTAL, and Ronnie helped set up a fund for an organization called Children of the Night. It was a place for those driven to that life to come and have a place to sleep, get fed, and be rehabilitated to become a successful part of society with a respectable job. It has changed the lives of thousands of kids, and is now very successful.

“When he passed on, there was an organization set up immediately called The Stand Up And Shout cancer research fund. This is to educate people that have a chance about early treatment of not only stomach cancer, but other types as well…knowledge is power…it pays to know early so that treatment is effective…cancer CAN be BEAT!

“These organizations are very successful at fulfilling their missions. One hundred percent of all donations are used for the greater good, not to pay administration and other costs.”

And in addition to a firm belief in making the world around him a better place, he was simply a man who was fun to be around.

“Not only was he very well respected in the music industry, he had friends in most every hard rock or metal band there was. Because of my association with him, I also got to meet almost everyone and I loved it. Most of them were really nice, down to earth people, just like you and me. Parties at the house were always tasteful, not the wild orgies that some people would expect at a rock star’s home.”

Speaking of his home life, I was surprised to hear just how “down to earth” he really was.

“He loved gardening, do-it-yourself projects, and cooking for family and friends. When he was not making music, he was always tending to the gardens and plants or in the kitchen whipping up some wonderful concoction. I remember once he was tending to the herb garden, and a rogue concrete garden gnome rolled down the hill and attacked him, slicing off his thumb, which he put in a bag of frozen peas and drove to the hospital to have it reattached.

“He also loved anything ancient, old, medieval, or Baroque, and always was looking for another collectible for his beautiful home. He was also an avid sports fan, especially the New York Yankees and Mets.”

As his illness began to take over and he knew his time was limited, my source tells me Dio reaffirmed his bonds with what was really important to him in life.

“The final months were spent squeezing every good moment out of life that he could,” they told me. “He even accepted an award and set up a lifetime achievement award on VH-1’s Golden Gods of Rock awards only a month before his death. You would never even have guessed that he was sick. He worked with his cousin, Dave Fierstein, on a final song written for all his fans, called Metal Will Never Die…it is available on the album, The Very Beast of Dio II.”

So in addition to leaving behind a legacy of fantastic metal, the man known as Ronnie James Dio is testament to the fact that it can be so easy to pigeonhole someone into a caricature of their true selves, when the real person is often someone much deeper, much more fragile…and human.

“Even though he was the voice of metal and the one credited for inventing the “Horns Up” sign, which you can even see at a Britney Spears, Lady GaGa, or Justin Beiber concert these days, He was ALWAYS a true gentleman, humble to a fault. He was super intelligent, the most caring individual you could ever meet, and one of the best Italian chefs to ever live. When the band would be stuck for months during rehearsal and production of albums, nobody ever went hungry, because Ronnie was always in the kitchen, making something delicious and healthy to eat. His favorite food was Lamb Vindaloo curry.

“Another big thing that I hope most people know now is that Ronnie, even though there are pictures of demons on his albums, was NEVER a Satanist. He was brought up Catholic, but saw the light, and abandoned organized religion altogether. He was very spiritual, but in a bit of a nonconventional, new way. The fact is, we really don’t know what’s out there until we pass on into the cosmic consciousness and find out, so nothing can be discounted. All religious beliefs are valid, as long as they are positive and life affirming until proven otherwise. To quote Ronnie’s song, We Rock, ‘We pray to someone, and when it’s said and done, it’s really all the same, just got a different name…’

Dio-The_Last_In_Line-Frontal

Click the picture above to see the video for one of Dio’s biggest hits, The Last in Line!

“Yesterday would have been Ronnie’s 71st birthday. Lots of us celebrated in our own ways. I got a package from management with the latest deluxe release of the Magica album with a vintage T-shirt left over from the tour. It is almost like he reached out of the grave to just say ‘hi’ with the package arriving on his birthday and all.

“But then it IS Ronnie, and everything he ever did was magickal….”

For more information on Ronnie James Dio and the charities he held so dear to his heart, check out www.ronniejamesdio.com, www.diocancerfund.org, or www.childrenofthenight.org.

I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to see such a personal side to one of my musical heroes growing up, and I was excited to be able to pass on a bit of Dio’s humanity on to my readers!

17 Responses to “The private side of heavy metal icon Ronnie James Dio”
  1. Mychael Dio 30 July 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    Awesome article, Fred!!!…Wait till the official management sees this one….

  2. Stacey 30 September 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    ‘We pray to someone, and when it’s said and done, it’s really all the same, just got a different name…’ Unfortunately, he made the same tragic mistake that a lot of people make. And it’s tragic in the purest sense of the word. If he died believing this, he’s experiencing the same environment depicted on some of his album covers – and it ain’t no party.

    Don’t be deceived – there is a Hell, and there is a Heaven. Dio did right by walking away from “organized religion” which has ruined the lives of many; however, walking away from Jesus Christ is the absolute worst possible error anyone can make. Do not practice a religion – put your faith in Christ and live for His glory. Religion kills – Jesus saves.

    • Nicholas van der Walt 18 December 2014 at 2:46 pm #

      Its true what you say and i went on this site because i was scared he was a satanist but he isnt and i wont make the mistake that he did but before i was scared for loving his music now i can start loving it again knowing it doesnt meen what everyone said Dio is one of the best musicians i know or knew

    • You'llneverknow 18 February 2015 at 8:46 am #

      Stacey, Dio was an amazingly kind and intelligent man, but his beliefs should not influence whether he will be in heaven or hell (if they exist) he should be judged by his character and personality, he was a great person if his beliefs should not influence where he will end up. John Lennon, Bruce Lee, and Ghandhi Were Not Christian Lennon and Lee were not religious at all, but there beliefs do not change the fact that they were great people. I am not religious myself either but I would not judge someone based on their beliefs and I’m very lucky because I’m only 15 however my parents accept that I am not religious even though they are, but I know they don’t think I would end up in hell because of that, if I were to end up in hell it would be because I turned into a bad person when I get older (never even had detention in school so far) but good people should not go to hell if they don’don’t share your belief.

      • You'llneverknow 18 February 2015 at 8:49 am #

        Omit the “if” between person and his please (in your mind, I’m aware comments cannot be edited).

      • Unruly Ay 23 March 2016 at 9:51 pm #

        That would beg the question, What really is ‘good’? This is moral relativism. Someone can have a completely polar morality from you and think you really low, and while you consider one action bad, the other will think of it as good. So who’s right? Secularly speaking, no one, morality is subjective and can be whatever we want to choose. Hitler did what he thought was good, and his nation saw him as great and the Allied powers as bad. This is where we need objective morality, or moral absolutes which can only be sustained by God.

  3. Nicholas van der Walt 18 December 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    And im also a Christian

  4. Oleg Dontsov 25 December 2014 at 9:06 am #

    Hi Fred,

    Thank you for sharing the story. I am lifetime Ronnie’s fan. It was nice to find out more about my favorite singer. “Still I’m sad” that his life ended short but I will be forever thankful for the joy he brought into my life. You see, I am Russian and most of my life I spent in Soviet Far East (Kamchatka peninsula) and my friend and me discovered his songs in 1975 and that helped us a lot- to make our grey Soviet lives more colorful, optimistic. And in a way, I can to make a statement that he made my interest to learn English language alive. I learned by myself through many years, I wanted to know his songs ( I know most of them by heart) and I kept memorizing and studying. The result is that I live in the US, in Denver (married to American girl) now. This is perhaps another case how deep and wide his musical reach was and his help to make somebody’s life better (he helped me to make my dream true). Of course, as he was, I am forever fan of Ritchie Blackmore and “Deep Purple” too.
    Also, I was lucky to watch Ronnie in concert, in Broomfield, Colorado, performing my favorite album “Heaven and Hell”, keep tour T-shirt. I did not know that I could meet him near their bus. That would be neat.
    Again, thanks for sharing your story, it will stay with me till I die.
    Sincerely, Oleg Dontsov.

  5. greg grill 8 February 2015 at 12:08 am #

    dio was a true honest person he knew better than believe in a god or devil he knew it was all
    a lie. set up in history to deceive all. to be free is not religion. but to think out side what you
    been told religion is a lie from the word go look and find the truth study then you will know the truth and the lies that have been taught to control us all you cant kill rock and roll so true.

  6. Panos 18 May 2015 at 9:29 pm #

    Dio seemed like a very friendly, easy going, albeit highly intellectual person, with tons of talent in song writing and singing and his back catalogue was a crescendo from the early love songs from the school bands through classic rock of unparalleled magical lyricism, up to the very pure metallic sound, he very much excelled in. I feel very privileged I got to a gig with Heaven n Hell in Athens, Greece a few years before his death and will always remain imprinted in my mind. I am not sure whether he was a true satanist or he embarked in some ‘evil’ tunes in his music and lyrics, however he is judged for his daily life and music legacy and not for unproven allegations – not sure whether he wrote anti war songs though…whatever the verdict is, I highly admire him and will always be missed. That is what I consider true hysterofeime of a great Man.

  7. Tom 23 November 2015 at 2:47 am #

    I would like to share my story with the readers on this page.
    I met Ronnie James Dio back in 1992 and another time 10 years later into 2002. Ronnie was always a very kind and humble gentleman …. And actually my brother even gave him a hug and Ronnie gladly excepted the gesture back with a loving kind giving heart.
    So to say both times were always a dream come true and never a let down. As a person he was wonderful human being… What he was spiritually was another.
    He did not have much faith or belief in the Bible. The imagery on his albums was nothing but demons and dragons.

    I have been a heavy metal fan since I was 11 years old. Slayer , Metallica , Dio , Ozzy , Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden were my favourite bands. It was in my blood and in my veins. But on December 21, 2011 that was my wake up call… I went to see a Russian healer who was working with the dark arts who was basically working with black magic and the occult …..which as we know comes from Satan himself. Not knowing this at the time …. But what I learned was he was bluffing people saying that he was working with God…

    I don’t want to get into full detail about what happened to me but whatever demonic energy or spirit stuck to me after my session with him almost drove me insane and suicidal… I was always a happy go lucky person that never experienced depression or anxiety or any suicidal thoughts… but right after my session with him everything turned into havoc in my life.

    I remember him telling him that I go to church… And all I got was a look of evil …. and what he responded back to me was
    ” Don’t go to church !! God hates churches ! “. Which was such a shock to me coming from somebody who says they’re working with God! His God was not the same God that is Jesus Christ… He’s God was Satan.

    The only thing that saved me was the Lord Jesus Christ.! I was never A religious person growing up but now I devote my life to Jesus for saving me… Reading the Bible daily and going to mass regularly. Without turning to Jesus Christ I would probably be dead right now. There is a spiritual world out there and we must be aware of this …..there are demons causing havoc in peoples lives through music … entertainment and movies, porno graffiti, strip clubs, etc. Pushing us to sin and turn away from God by living a sinful life.
    I believe the Bible was written to warn us about these demonic spirits that in the end only want our soul !! The bible was written to guide us if we do not live out the 10 commandments and live our lives As the bible tells us …there are consequences of going to hell if we do Not do As God asks us to.
    God does not condemn us to Hell …. We condemn ourselves to Hell by not living out his word.

    I’m warning people because I’m one of the lucky few that experienced this and Lived to write about it … It was truly a
    ” Curse to a Blessing “. Without this happening to me and through my suffering i truly found God …. That I believe tried to warn me about where I was heading if I did not change my life around.
    there is a spiritual world that is out there but we are blinded by it… I believe Satan likes it this way…

    I am in no way knocking Ronnie or judging him … Only God can do that. He was a kind person on both occasions that I met him. But I truly hope that he repented for The mocking he did on the imagery on the Holy Diver album cover. Even back then never did that album cover sit well with me.

    On that note I no longer listen to Heavy Metal music or attend Metal concerts… I am now a church goer. I have peace in my life that I never had before. I do believe Heavy Metal is Way to turn us away from God. Most of the lyrics are only talk about sex , drugs, murder and evil. Making us turn away from God without even realizing it.

    The other lesson is do not go see any healers , psychic , mystics , or fortunetellers of any kind because it will only open up a doorway to evil…! It is even written in the Bible to stay away from magik and sorcery.
    But I had to learn the hard way.

    God bless Anyone reading this I hope this will guide you to the light …. And to know the one true King Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

    • Ian Grace 19 May 2016 at 1:55 pm #

      Oh man, so many people in the comments talking about how “Jesus saved their lives” or about “black magic” (doesn’t exist, btw). I came to this site to learn about how awesome a person Dio was. I will admit that an unfortunate number of metal songs are just about sex, drugs, violence, etc. That doesn’t mean that all metal is like that, as there are some metal artists that are smart and creative enough to break out of the norm.

    • Len 18 October 2016 at 9:37 pm #

      I pray each day for Ronald’s soul as well as the souls of all the dearly departed. Only our Lord can judge. Whether or not Ronnie believed or didn’t believe in Jesus is between him and his maker. We ALL have a choice to make in this world. Don’t judge. And be careful believing that everything is just make believe. There is evil and there is good. Personally… I lived the metal life. It took me down to the depths and nearly took my life. I turned my life around and went back to the light. I still love to listen to Dio. But it’s with a different sense of realization… may God rest and have mercy on Ronnie’s soul. And my he and all the faithful departed be accepted
      Into heaven. There are so many souls that are alone and without anyone that even cares. I pray for them. And I believe that RJD had a kind heart and down deep felt the same way. Peace –

  8. michael 22 January 2016 at 4:35 am #

    Ronnie was born a Catholic and died a Catholic, he is with the Saints now. That means that when one goes to Mass, the Saints and Ronnie are there with you.

  9. Jerry M 6 May 2016 at 3:37 pm #

    I remember being at a Dio concert in the 80s in Omaha. During an interlude with laser lights / etc. Dio pointed out to the crowd and said, ‘I’m going to burn in hell with you and you and you . . .’ I thought – this is a bit much for me – time for Stryper – ‘To hell with the devil’

  10. Kurt Steiner 31 May 2016 at 7:40 pm #

    Ronnie James Dio was my favourite singer, bar none. I first discovered this amazing “voice in the darkness” when I got Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell” album (my ultimate Desert Island Disc) when I was 15 in 1981. I then delved into his Rainbow catalogue, a bit of Elf, and of course his solo band.

    I was a lonely, bullied teenager and RJD’s escapist lyrics helped me disconnect from that abuse. His more down-to-earth lyrics seemed to speak to and for me. Later, when I read in an interview that he rarely wrote about himself, but told stories about other people and situations he had observed, his lyrics took on another dimension for me.

    I went briefly to an ultrafundamentalist church as a teenager, due to the fact that my then-girlfriend went there. Her parents were convinced I was a Satanist (never!) just because of my long hair and taste in music and made her break up with me. The church itself basically inferred that to truly be “holy” I would have to cut my hair and dress differently. The result? I didn’t darken a church door with few exceptions for almost 10 years. That’s real “evangelism,” isn’t it?

    I came back to a belief in God through a 12-step group. Today I am an active, participant member of a Lutheran congregation and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

    And guess what? I still, at 50 years old, listen to heavy metal. Not exclusively – I like classical music, progressive rock (Rush, Kansas, Yes, etc.), blues-rock and Canadian jazz-blues singer Diana Krall – but overwhelmingly my old favourites like Dio (of course!), Sabbath, Rainbow, Purple, Scorpions…

    I was privileged to have seen Ronnie three times – once in 1985 with his own band, once in 1992 with Black Sabbath and 2009 with Heaven and Hell. My wife encouraged me to go to the H&H gig; she said, “those guys are getting up in years and you may never have the chance to see them again.” How tragically right she was. Ronnie, Tony, Geezer and Vinny were on top form that night, but I could tell Ronnie was even thinner than usual. Now we know why. Unfortunately, I never got to meet him.

    Yes, as a Christian there are things he depicted/said that make me go “hmmm…” We didn’t agree on the concept of God, I had issues with some of his album art and his “Heaven And Hell” crowd participation section (“there’s a big black shape looking up at me…). But then, remember he worked with Christian musician, the extremely talented Kerry Livgren, formerly of Kansas, and the lyrics he wrote for Kerry’s “Seeds Of Change” album (“To Live For The King,” “Mask Of The Great Deceiver”), if not explicitly Christian, were very much AGAINST things evil.

    I think I remember reading that Geezer Butler (an Irish Catholic) was with RJD when he died and prayed with him. I hope so, but rumour and innuendo are just that.

    Ronnie leaves us a wonderful legacy of being one of the true “nice guys” in rock, his philanthropic work, and above all, his music.

  11. misterears 3 August 2016 at 9:17 pm #

    Being “anti-religious” makes many people angry and defiant. They rebel so adamantly, that they become “the opposite”. I think Ronnie had more than a little of that “reacting” in him. Especially, former Catholics can become this way. My ex-wife was an ex-smoker (as I am) and she became a very vocal and angry crusader against anyone who smoked….not just anti-smoking…but anti-smokers.

    Maybe his humility was also a rebellion from what he saw as “proud religious” folks. But the vast majority of religious folks are not proud and preachy….it was just that Ronnie saw thos folks and rebelled. Plus, a satanist does not mean having “nothing in common with other religions”. It is not “anti-Judeo-Christian” not even anti-religion.

    Satanists are narcissists…putting themselves first (do as though whilst). A narcissist can be kind and warm. But no matter what, they always consider that their own thinking (“I do as I choose”) is all that is important for themselves personally. That thinking might be humility or arrogance…either one, or something else.

    But Ronnie was likely not part of an organized social group that had a common theology. He could have been a satanist, but he was surely no longer religious (as he might have been when young…before one or more incidents occurred to cause him to give up on religion….my guess is that he saw hypocrisy and bailed out).

    Regarding song he wrote or sang, there is a long list of Jewish writers and singers who wrote and sing Christmas songs. So, that is not much proof of what a person believes other than making pragmatic career choices.

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