All Kneel Before the Devil Horns

05/21/2010 03:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio Ronnie James Dio died the other day, quietly succumbing to a relatively sudden onset of stomach cancer and up and left the planet in a blaze of stage fire, dragonsmoke and general metal awesomeness. Maybe you heard.

It was an abrupt end to a sort of stunning, nearly unprecedented 35-year career in hard rock megastardom, a shock that sent all flags of classic campy Bic-lighter rock n' roll greatness to half mast for at least a solid year, or until Ozzy Osbourne spontaneously combusts, whichever comes first.

It is quite possible you have no idea who Dio was, or you don't really care, or you think he and his various multiplatinum bands -- Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio -- were a bit of a long-haired crotch-rock musical circuslike joke. Or maybe you were all aswoon for Rick Springfield or the Go-Go's at the time when a post-Ozzy Sabbath 2.0 was cranking out some of the best hard-rock songs of all time ("Heaven & Hell," "Mob Rules," "Voodoo," "Die Young") circa 1980ish.

It's also possible you know just enough to know RJD was pretty much heavy metal personified, a tiny 5-foot-4-inch sorcerer with a mangy mane, demonic eyes and sly grin, all coupled to a simply huge, operatic voice, a diminutive powerhouse who prowled the stage like a feline elf and who was, it turns out, also finely intelligent and well spoken, an actual gentleman in a genre known all too well for its bombastic, monosyllabic doltbuckets. A rare thing indeed.

Metal is made up of many silly cliches, and Dio's songs rarely shied away from a good cheeseball lyric about medieval knights and crystal balls. But the amazing thing is, Dio the man never succumbed to the typical ravages of drugs, booze or hideous all-body tattoos. He never gained 75 pounds later in life or lost most of his voice through merciless shredding and ended it all playing county fairs for 19 drunk dudes in a barn before collapsing in a heap in a motel room in Jersey. There's a lesson in there somewhere. Or everywhere.

Hence, it is time for respect. It is time to raise the fist and light the lighter and, of course, make the sign. Oh, the sign. It is formidable indeed. It is the thing that will last forever. It has the power...

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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the SF Chronicle and SFGate. Get it at or Amazon;. He recently wrote about the KFC Double Down, the Texas Board of Education, and what it's like being part of the evil liberal conspiracy. His website is Join him on Facebook;, or email him. Not to mention...