Heavy metal rocker played with Black Sabbath, fronted own band

Ronnie James Dio, the diminutive, big-voiced singer who fronted the popular heavy metal bands Black Sabbath, Rainbow and Dio, died Sunday. He was 67.

The vocalist was diagnosed with stomach cancer last summer after he completed a tour with Heaven and Hell, a reconstituted latter-day edition of Sabbath.

Premature reports of his passing that reached the Internet Saturday night had been denied by his wife and manager Wendy Dio. However, she confirmed his death early Sunday morning in a post on his Web site. “Today my heart is broken,” she wrote.

Born Ronald James Padavona in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Dio apprenticed in rockabilly bands before making his mark in the early ’70s with the hard rock group Elf, which was signed to Deep Purple’s label Purple. In 1975, he became the front man of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore’s band Rainbow.

From 1979-82, Dio fronted Black Sabbath, replacing the pioneering metal group’s lead singer Ozzy Osbourne. He appeared on the platinum album “Heaven and Hell” (1980) and its gold follow-up “Mob Rules” (1981).

Dio, who returned to Black Sabbath in 1992 and fronted Heaven and Hell from 2007-2009, sparked much argument among Sabbath fans, some of whom maintained that his power as a singer outstripped that of founder Osbourne. Rhino issued a compilation of Dio-era Sabbath material in 2007.

Dio stepped out on his own in 1983 with his eponymous band, which recorded and toured for two decades. Though the group released two platinum albums and waxed such signature tunes as “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Holy Diver,” it never achieved Sabbath’s long-term chart preeminence.

His crucial role in the Sabbath legacy was reiterated with the formation of Heaven and Hell, which also included charter Sabs members Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler and latter-day drummer Vinny Appice in its lineup. Rhino issued the band’s only studio album, “The Devil You Know,” last year.

Dio’s influence extended into metal iconography: He has been widely credited with popularizing the “devil horns” hand gesture – an upraised hand with extended pinkie and index fingers – flashed by head-banging concert-goers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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