- Ronnie Dio's Early Years

Rock legend Dio dies at 67
By Scott Conroe – Staff Reporter

CORTLAND – Ronnie James Dio was a leader and consummate artist who loved people, especially his fans, friends said today in recalling the heavy metal singer.

"He left his mark on more people than you can imagine," said Butch Hyde, his Cortland High School classmate, who was in Los Angeles when the singer died Sunday morning. "He liked people, he loved people. He was a perfectionist. On Thursday, even when he was in pain, he signed autographs. His wife asked him to sign four and he signed 50."

Dio, who rose to fame in the 1970s with Elf, Rainbow and Black Sabbath, died of stomach cancer, which he had been fighting through chemotherapy since December. He was 67.

"Today my heart is broken," Wendy Dio, his wife and a manager, wrote on the singer's website. "Many, many friends and family were able to say their private good-byes before he peacefully passed away.

"Ronnie knew how much he was loved by all," she continued. "We so appreciate the love and support that you have all given us…Please know he loved you all and his music will live on forever."

Dio is survived by his father, Pat Padavona, son Daniel Padavona of Binghamton, and grandchildren Julie and Joey.

Though Dio had recently undergone his seventh chemotherapy treatment, he was hopeful to perform again, he said on his website. Earlier this month, his band Heaven And Hell canceled its summer tour, but Dio did not view being sidelined as a permanent thing.

"The doctors did everything they could, and he thought he could whip it," Hyde said. "But it's such an awful disease. He was in a lot of pain Friday and Saturday. His son arrived Saturday. Everyone else here were music producers and band members."

Hyde said Dio's funeral will be Memorial Day Weekend in Los Angeles and he will be buried in a mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale.

Dio "always had music in his heart" while growing up in Cortland, Hyde said.

Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he moved to Cortland as a child. He grew up on Central Avenue. A connector street later was created near his house and was named Dio Way in November 1988 by the city.

He graduated from Cortland High School in 1960. He was senior class president and a band officer.

Rick Eleck, the high school music director, likes to point out Dio in 1956 and 1957 photographs of the senior high orchestra that hang on the band room wall. Dio is holding a trumpet. He told interviewers he learned his vocal style from playing the French horn.

Dio began playing in bands and making records while a high school student. Some local residents still have their vinyl records of "Dio at Domino's," recorded at a club located where the Stone Lounge is now, on south Main Street.

He attended the University of Buffalo for one year, 1960-61, to study pharmacy. He quit to be a full-time musician, changing his name to Dio.

His early bands were called the Vegas Kings, Ronnie and the Redcaps, and Ronnie and the Rumblers. His bandmates included current local residents guitarist Dick Botoff and saxophonist Jack Musci.

He performed with his cousin David Feinstein, now retired from being a full-time musician and owner of the Hollywood Restaurant in Cortland. They were bandmates in a band called The Electric Elves, then The Elves and Elf, where Dio grew famous as the lead singer.

Dio's fame grew as the first lead singer of Rainbow, the heavy metal band put together in 1975 by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, who had just quit Deep Purple. Dio recorded three albums with the group.

In 1980, after Ozzy Osbourne left the hugely successful and groundbreaking metal band Black Sabbath, the band tapped Dio to fill his spot.

In an interview, Dio acknowledged how difficult it was to step into the shoes of such a famous frontman.

"Ozzy especially had some real staunch fans, and for someone else to come into Sabbath, God, that was sacrilegious," he said.

Instead of serving as just a place-holder with the band, however, he united with them to create the album "Heaven And Hell," considered by many critics to be one of the finest heavy metal albums ever.

His time with the band would be known as "Black Sabbath, the Dio years," touching off an intense debate among fans as to which singer was the true essence of the band, a discussion that lasts even to this day.

His tenure with the band was on-and-off, though. His first stint with the band lasted only two years.

He also enjoyed a successful solo career with his self-titled band, Dio, in between his three runs with Black Sabbath --- 1980-82, 1992, and 2007-09 when the band toured as Heaven And Hell.

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 like "Neon Knights," "Killing The Dragon" and "Stargazer."

Besides his growling voice, he became known for making the "devil horns" sign a heavy metal signature --- a sign he said came from his Italian grandmother, who used it to ward off evil.

Cortland resident Travis Bailey said he idolized Dio while growing up in Texas, pretending he was Dio as he played various instruments in bands.

Bailey met Dio just once, but he remembers his idol's grace.

"I was in the Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset Strip, about 1983 or 1984, and this massive guy knocked me to the floor," he said. "It was Ronnie's bodyguard, just clearing a path for him. I look up and there's Ronnie, helping me up and asking if I was OK. I was in shock."

Cortland has produced many musicians of national acclaim, said Bailey, who worked at Ultimate Music before it closed last month. He says Dio's influence struck countless young people across the nation.

"Ronnie was such a huge presence everywhere but in Cortland," Bailey said

The singer was inducted to the high school's Wall of Fame in 2004.

Dio liked keeping things low-key when he visited Cortland, said his high school friend, Angelo DiPietro. He would visit DiPietro's barber shop on Hubbard Street.

Dio's peers lauded him Sunday in interviews with the Associated Press.

"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 again this summer at European rock festivals. "He was the nicest, classiest person you would ever want to meet."

Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx, whose band toured with Dio, said he was shocked to learn of his death.

"Ronnie was one of the kindest souls I have ever met and his talent was beyond inspirational to so many of us," he said in a statement. "I still have this imagine of him standing on stage in front of 100,000 belting out ‘Man on the Silver Mountain' and remember the shivers it sent up my spine. He will be missed by all of us.

Dio organized an all-star charity collaboration in 1986 called "Hear N' Aid" to raise money for famine relief in Africa, styled on the successful "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." His last album was Heaven And Hell's "The Devil You Know," released last April.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.