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BFMN Exclusive: "Remembering Dio," An Intimate Backstage Pass
I remember when I discovered Ronnie James Dio. MTV was on the television in the living room and, as I walked through it on my way to another part of the house, something caught my attention. A thin man with a big fluff of black hair was standing on a rooftop belting out wild lyrics backed by metal madness. His voice was amazing and I instantly became a fan.
Click for Michelle’s touching story and exclusive photos of Dio by photographer Keith Durflinger
Years later I finally had the opportunity to catch Dio in concert at the Riverside Auditorium in Riverside, California. Great White was the opening band, so I stood to the back of the venue – I just can’t take screaming women. The majority of the screamers left the front of the stage when the band was done. I took my chance and - politely - made my way through the sea of black leather jackets to a spot front and center.
The stage was taller than me, but no matter, I didn’t miss a thing. Dio worked the crowd, often pausing to shake a hand or share a smile, yet he passed me up every time. Finally he launched into my favorite song, “Rainbow in the Dark” and during the chorus Dio surprised me by bending over and grabbing my hand. His long fingers wrapped around my palm and part of my wrist, and he looked right into my eyes as he sang into the next verse. It seemed like forever – a true “image caught in time.” I had my brush with greatness and went home happy.
Flash forward. As an established music journalist I make the trek to the NAMM (International Music Merchants) convention every year as is my duty. This time the four-day event was being held at the Anaheim Convention Center and Dio was going to be at one of the booths signing autographs. There was a long line of people waiting to see him, but I was willing to wait, as I was seeking a story.
As Dio signed his photo for me, I made my pitch for an interview. He told me that if I would wait until he was done, he would be happy to talk with me. I went to the stairs leading to the private area of the booth and sat down… for nearly two hours. This was my first experience in seeing how devoted Dio was to his fans.
The wait was worth it. Dio led me up the stairs and indicated to me to sit next to him on a couch. I got my tape recorder running and my notepad out and we began talking. It began as business, but slowly turned into the type of conversation you would have with an old friend. We discussed singing techniques, our favorite bands, growing up, our dreams and life for two hours. The convention center was turning out the lights and security was doing its final sweep as we finally parted ways. But this chat set the course for an ongoing friendship that wove its way through interviews, concert and other events.
The time I will never forget was at Dio’s concert in Yucaipa, California at what is now Angel’s Road House. It was a great bill, with Armored Saint, George Lynch and others taking turns on the stage before the metal master. As the houselights came up, Dio walked on the stage, picked up the mic and greeted the crowd. He spotted me and gave me a nod and a smile. My heart beat faster – he remembered me! The show was terrific and Dio gave it his all. As he exited the stage, he looked over at me and told me to go to the dressing room door. This was going to be a little tricky, as I didn’t have a pass. I did have my media credentials, so hopefully security would at least listen to me. As I plead my case to the security guard, the door opened and Dio’s road manager came out asking what was taking me so long – he gave the guard a grouchy glance as he led me into the room.
Inside Dio was sitting back on a couch with a glass of red wine in his hand. He patted the cushion next to him and I sat down. After a quick hug, he firmly held my hand and we caught up on our lives until we were interrupted by a knock on the door. A reporter and photographer had arrived for an interview. I offered to leave, but Dio gripped my hand tighter and insisted that I stay.
Used to being on the other (journalistic) side of things, I felt a little uncomfortable, but how could I say no to Dio? About 45 minutes later, the press was done and Dio asked if there were fans outside still waiting for him. It was 2 a.m., windy and cold, but there was a long line of people hoping for an autograph, a photo or a few words. Again Dio insisted that I stay with him. I watched him take time with each fan. He asked them questions, shared a smile, signed autographs and by 3 a.m., was only halfway through the line. The wind was whipping and the air was getting damp. Dio’s manager looked worried and advised, then begged, Dio to go back inside so he didn’t get ill. Dio waved him off and returned to his fans.
I had to be at work in a few hours, so I told Dio several times that I needed to leave. Finally at around 3:30 a.m. he said OK, but not without a proper good bye. He gave me a huge hug, then cupped my face in his hands and planted a bunch of tiny kisses all over it, like one would do with a small child. Satisified, he took my shoulders and gently turned me towards the parking area and said, “Be safe.” It must have looked cute, as we were the same height! As I walked to my car I felt the jealous looks from the crowd, but they ended quickly, as Dio was giving them his attention again.
Whenever we met after that, the affection and connection continued. Dio enjoyed holding my hand and “dragging” me around with him as he spoke with friends and fans after a concert. He was always a gentleman and treated me like a daughter or favorite niece. Dio was also interested in me and my life, asking me how my dancing (I belly dance with swords) was going, was I still singing, how was journalism. He encouraged me to use his music for my dancing and even suggested songs. Over the years, our special relationship lasted and flourished.
I had just settled down in bed for the night when I heard the news that Dio had died. Ronnie had been such a part of my life for years, I immediately felt a pang of emptiness and said a prayer for him and his family and friends. My emotions grew ragged, as that night and throughout the following days people phoned, texted and e-mailed me with condolences. It has been a hard loss, yet Ronnie will live on through his music and kindness.
I would like to think that one of the brightest stars in my world has not gone out, but is merely hidden by the clouds. You have a special forever place in my heart Ronnie, one filled with “love and magic.” Thank you for being my rainbow in the dark.
Michelle and Dio
catching up at the
Go to the BareFoot FotoBlog for larger versions of these very special photos by friend and photographer Keith Durflinger, and check back for more to come!
We met Michelle Mills at NAMM 2010 and have been friends ever since. An incredibly talented and well-published writer, singer, belly dancer and recent Queen of the Doo Dah Parade, Mills writes with the same passion with which she dances. We’ve collaborated on a few things and no doubt we will again. When I heard this story I knew it should be written down; Michelle kindly agreed. Check out Michelle’s blog and her magazine for more from this little dynamo. She’s always up to something. ~ DanG
UPDATE: In lieu of flowers, Wendy Dio has asked that donations be made to the Ronnie James Dio “Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund." A PayPal link has been set up at www.ronniejamesdio.com
Thank you for your comments and for Sharing this story!
First of all, please accept my sympathies for your loss. Oh, gosh what an amazing story. I did not know Ronnie personally, but after reading your story several times, I feel as if I will know him someday. I DO know his music for sure. He was an excellent performer and you could tell he was different from most any other band member from any band I ever saw.
Ronnie fought the good fight and his soul will always be around. You were a special friend to him and I can imagine that he was always as glad to see you as you were to see him.
Peace be with you and know that you were loved, Ronnie was loved and his legions of fans were loved. Take care.