As he lay in a Texas hospital bed in March, being treated for the disease to which he would eventually succumb, Ronald James Padavona, better known to the world as heavy-metal legend Ronnie James Dio, gave an interview to a local TV station. “Cancer? I’ll kick the hell out of you,” he declared, before throwing the devil horns. “I refuse to be beaten in any shape or form, so I’m going to beat you, too.”
Throughout his career, the Portsmouth, New Hampshire–born Dio exemplified the fighting spirit that constitutes the core ethos of heavy metal. He will be remembered for his powerful work as a solo artist, but also as the instigator of the second act of two of metal’s progenitors: first, in his pairing with a post–Deep Purple Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow, and then as Ozzy Osbourne’s replacement in Black Sabbath.
In each, Dio turned the franchise around by replacing ’70s drug-addled nihilism with a new spirit of pugilistic righteousness that heralded metal’s ’80s ascendancy. With a booming voice and a towering stage presence that belied his 5’4” stature, Dio proved to generations of rockers that, if you possess the proper determination and spirit, you can command metal legions with but a wave of your hand.
His signature devil-horn hand gesture, purloined from his superstitious Italian grandmother, was used not to ward off evil, but to channel the power of metal into a universal force that transcends micro-genres and satanic accusations. As the Dio legend now enters its mythic phase, let us throw the horns in his memory — a testament to a man who sought out and found light in the darkness.
: Music Features
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