This Saturday will mark the fifth anniversary of the death of legendary heavy metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio. The powerful voice behind genre classics such as “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark” was silenced at the age of 67 by stomach cancer.
But if Ronnie’s widow Wendy Dio has her way, this weekend will be filled with smiles and hope instead of sadness. To mark the anniversary, the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund will be holding a three-day celebration of Ronnie’s life and career.
During our recent conversation with Wendy, she revealed that initially the only event planned was a memorial this Saturday at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
“Instead of having a sad memorial, I wanted to have a celebration of Ronnie’s life,” Wendy says. “But we got swamped with so many messages from fans coming in from all over the country and the world, some from as far away as Russia and Japan. We wanted to give those fans traveling in some entertainment, and also turn it into a fundraiser for the Stand Up and Shout cancer fund.”
The expanded celebration this weekend now includes a celebrity bowling tournament and memorabilia auction on Friday night at Pinz Bowling Center, and the Ride For Ronnie, a motorcycle ride on Sunday that starts at Harley-Davidson of Glendale and concludes with a BBQ and concert at Los Encinos State Historic Park in Encino.
The celebrity bowling tournament is of special importance for this weekend’s celebration, as Dio participated in the T.J. Martell Foundation’s celebrity bowling events in the 1980s and ‘90s. Dio also worked extensively with animal rescue charity the Brittany Foundation and children’s charity Children of the Night. Wendy sees her current efforts with Stand Up and Shout as a natural continuation of her husband's efforts to help others.
“Ronnie always felt that life was good to him and he felt that in the position he was in, he should give back,” Wendy says. “The organization is a way of keeping Ronnie’s music and legacy alive, but at the same time it’s also a way of continuing to do good for other people throughout the world.”
The organization’s efforts to raise money for stomach cancer research crossed the million-dollar milestone last year after the release of Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life, a tribute album benefiting Stand Up and Shout, featuring covers of classic Dio songs by artists such as Metallica, Killswitch Engage and, most notably, Tenacious D, who won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance for their version of "The Last in Line."
While there was some grousing over Tenacious D's win from more cynical corners of the metal blogosphere, for Wendy the win was a feel-good, bittersweet moment.
“The very sad part was that Ronnie wasn’t alive to see it,” Wendy says, her voice trembling with emotion. “It was humbling how many wonderful musicians gave their time and effort for the record. It’s a testament to how much of a wonderful human being he was. Ronnie just loved people. I think that’s reflected back with all the love people have given towards his memory.”
Ronnie James Dio received many awards and accolades throughout his career. One of the most important was the Best Metal Singer honor he received at the 2010 Golden Gods Awards. At the time, Dio was many months into his battle with stomach cancer, and the evening would be his final public appearance before his death one month later.
“During his illness, he had up days and down days,” Wendy says. “That day was obviously an up day. We both believed that he was going to pull through this. He fought all the way until the end. He was proud that day that he was showing the fans ‘I’m out here, I’m not giving up, and I’m still here!’”
Dio Memorial Weekend events include:
Bowl for Ronnie celebrity bowling tournament at Pinz Bowling Center on Friday, May 15
RJD Memorial Service and Celebration at Forest Lawn Cemetery on Saturday, May 16.
Ride for Ronnie motorcycle ride on Sunday, May 17.
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For more info, visit www.diocancerfund.org.