During vocalist Ronnie James Dio's time with Black Sabbath, Rainbow and Dio, his wife, Wendy, managed his career for more than 20 years. Five years after the metal icon lost his battle to metastasized gastric cancer on May 16, 2010, Wendy continues to advocate for her late husband's musical legacy and for others combating the disease. Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund, which Wendy co-founded, will host a weekend-long gathering of events in remembrance of the voice of “Holy Diver.”
Once news spread about global travelers' incoming attendance for the memorial at Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills, Wendy and the board added additional events, auctions, music performances and a group motorcycle ride to support the fans in return. Starting on Friday, May 15, ticket purchasers can attend a metal celebrity bowling tournament with a collectibles auction at Pinz Bowling Center in Studio City. The free memorial at Forest Lawn will commemorate the exact date of passing on Saturday, with former band members throughout Ronnie's career performing his songs. Sunday will signify the final ride, as motorcyclists ramble through the streets from Harley-Davidson Glendale to Los Encinos State Park in Encino for more live music and a barbecue.
The Weekly spoke with Wendy about this weekend's honorary events, advocating for cancer research, Ronnie's worldwide footprint and some of the happiest memories together in their metal marriage.
OC Weekly (Rachael Mattice): Let's talk about the remembrance celebration. What's going to be different this year from previous years?
Wendy Dio: Previous years, we've done private memorials for Ronnie, and we've done fund-raisers. This year, it's different because it's the fifth anniversary, and I thought that it would be nice to do it at Forest Lawn up at the auditorium, where we did the memorial on Ronnie's passing. We wanted to invite all of the fans to come.
We have speakers from Ronnie's life, his band mates and performances. We have Eddie Trunk hosting the whole event, which is great. I'm doing a mini museum in the auditorium so the fans can see things like the original artwork from “Holy Diver” and “Sacred Heart,” some music Ronnie had written, different photos, awards and other things fans might be interested in.
Then when I started to see fans replying that they were coming from Australia, Japan, Minnesota, I thought I should put other events around the memorial they could attend and it could also be a fund-raiser. Obviously, the memorial is free. We're doing bowling on Friday at Pinz Bowling in Studio City, with different celebrities planning to bowl and attend. On Sunday, we decided to start a ride for Ronnie from Harley-Davidson in Glendale and end in Encino with a barbecue and music.
What is your fund-raising goal this year?
I wanted to raise $1 million, and we are well over that now, so my next goal is $10 million. Of course, when I get there, I'll want even more. We have to rid this horrible disease and put more money into research and education. We need to make sure people get tested early because early detection saves lives. We need to drag those men to the doctor. Women are good at getting checkups, but men, you have to drag them there.
The total of $10 million is from fans sending in donations from the beginning, T-shirt sales, fund-raisers, the Monsters of Rock cruise. On the Monsters of Rock cruise this year, we did celebrity auctions and bingo and Dine and Donate. This year, we raised $48,000 in five days. It was amazing. It was a lot of work, but it was fun. The people and fans get to mix with the artists, and everyone is so nice and so supportive.
We also have Ronnie's tribute album, which has already raised over $132,000 so far, and it's still selling.
Before Ronnie passed, did you discuss organizing an event like this together? Did he want to be involved in advocating and helping others going through the same thing?
I think I learned all about this from Ronnie because he was always very charitable. In 1985, he said to me, “Life has been good to us. I think we should find a charity and donate some money to it.” “Okay. What do you want?” He said, “A children's charity.” So we found Children of the Night, which is for runaways and abused kids. They are all between the ages of 12 and 16. He said, “That's kind of the age group of some of my fans. Let's donate to them and do something.” He organized a show, and we raised $100,000 and gave it to them to help build their shelter. I was on the board for about 20 years.
He also did the Hear n' Aid project with his band mates, which raised about $3 million that we sent to Africa. He was very involved with animals, too, and we used to be involved in–I still do it, actually–the Brittany Foundation, where we go in a cage with dogs for 24 hours and you have to raise enough money to get out. We still do that once a year in October. Luckily, I have a lot of friends, so I get out quickly. We try to get the animals adopted, too, while raising money.
I saw representatives of the 2014 Getaway Rock Festival in Sweden last summer donated over $20,000 in funds raised from attendees for the Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund. Not as if a donation ever needs an explanation, but did the reps tell you why they decided to donate then?
I was blown away. I didn't know anything about it until afterward. They told me they had a check to send me and the amount. I thought they were talking in Swedish Kronos, which is about five to one, or about $5,000. I was so blown away that it was $20,000. I guess the organizers were fans of Ronnie's. It was an absolutely wonderful surprise. They didn't ask for anything from us.
Ronnie's tribute album has been out for about a year now and was honored with awards such as Grammy nominations against some other heavy hitters in the metal world. Between the two songs, were you surprised “Last in Line” won before “Neon Knights”?
I was blown away to get the nominations and even more amazed to get the Grammy. I think it's wonderful. I wish Ronnie could have been alive to see that because it would have been great for him to see one of his songs get a Grammy.
We're still selling Ronnie Jamies Dio–This is Your Life, and we will continue to sell that along with a tribute T-shirt. All of the revenue made will go directly to the Stand Up and Shout cancer fund.
Fans from all over the world have honored Ronnie when he was still here and even after he's left this physical plane. What has been the most touching fan moment that you've heard or witnessed to honor him?
Many years ago, a fan from Make a Wish Foundation came to us lying on a stretcher. Ronnie always treated special needs people like the rest of us. Ronnie shook his hand and told him, “Hey, I'm going to give you this guitar ,and I want you to learn how to play it.” The funny thing is, this kid did learn how to play the guitar, and we got invited to his wedding many years later. He wasn't completely cured, but he was walking. It's amazing the mental strength of someone who is given so much hope and how they can pull through things.
There's another story anyone who attends the memorial will hear. A mother of a fan will share her story of her son and his relationship with Ronnie, which is very touching. I'm getting goose bumps just thinking about it.
What is the first happy memory from your lives together that comes to mind?
Buying our first house. When we went through the Rainbow years, we really didn't have any money. We had a big rented house to live in and a car, but we really didn't have anything. The first house we saved up to buy was such an exciting time.
There were a lot of exciting times, actually. Times when he worked so hard on an album, and I saw Ronnie perform onstage and 100,000 kids went crazy for those songs. Just makes you feel like all of the work is worth it.
Music creates such a powerful bond. What were some of your favorite groups, songs or artists you listened to together?
Our song was “I'm Not in Love” by 10cc.
We listened to a lot of classical music. Ronnie loved classical, and so do I. It was very soothing. When you're in a rock & roll world and have hard rock all the time around you, sometimes you want to kick back and listen to Bach. I love Bach and Beethoven. I think Beethoven was a hard rock guy in his time because his music is so loud and rough. I love Wagner, too. We loved Deep Purple, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Metallica and Tool.
Everyone knew Ronnie from the stage as a strong vocal presence, being kind-hearted to fans and humble in interviews. We can't help but want to know more about our favorite musicians when they are out of the spotlight, though. What is something you can tell me about Ronnie, about his personality, his beliefs, his morals that only you can tell us?
He respected women very much. He loved animals and sports. When he was at home, he didn't want to go out to dinner. He would like to have his close friends around, and we would have a lot of dinner parties or parties at our house and just hang out.
He was a very intelligent person, had a great sense of humor; he played jokes on you all the time. He was always so interested in what people had to say, whether it was a close friend or a fan. Ronnie also read a book almost every day.
He won a scholarship for Juilliard when he was 8 years old for trumpet. He played trumpet for years; his father forced him to play. Then he decided he couldn't pick up girls playing trumpet, so he learned how to play the bass. He taught himself piano and guitar. He was very well “schooled” in everything. Although the only actual tutoring he had was for trumpet. He never had a vocal lesson in his life.
Do you recall something that was left on Ronnie's bucket list, whether it is music related or not?
He wanted to go to Egypt. He was actually planning to go with Geezer Butler. He was very into different world history–Medieval, old English stuff. We had been to England and Germany dozens of times to tour the old castles, but he really wanted to see the tombs and pyramids. That was one of the things on his bucket list.
Speaking of bucket list, Ronnie can check off that he impacted the world with his talent and his music. How do you want to be remembered or what impact do you want to leave?
I just work behind the scenes [laughs]. I just want to be the best person I can and to keep Ronnie's legacy alive, his music alive, and to raise as much money as I can for cancer research.
I do other things, too, for our veterans. I think they have lost so much or given so much for our country and have been treated badly and don't get what they should. I never want to see anyone cruel to an animal. Those are the things that are dear to my heart.
Once the long weekend is over, do you plan to keep hosting the same event each year for several more years?
Of course. We're talking right now about possibly re-releasing Hear n'Aid, donating the money raised to the Stand Up and Shout cancer fund. That won't be until next year, though.
I don't think we will do any other things this year for the cancer fund. But you can only go to the world so many times and ask people for things. We do fund-raisers, but we can't keep doing it and doing it. You have to give them a break, and there has to be some special reason for why you want to do the fund-raiser. I have loads of footage from the Hear n'Aid event that have never been seen before. I think that will be an exciting thing to do.
Buy tickets, view the agenda and learn more about the Celebration of the Life & Music of Ronnie James Dio here. If you are unable to attend the weekend festivities in Southern California, supporters of Ronnie's music and advocates for cancer research can visit here to donate to Stand Up and Shout. To continue to spread Dio's music in hopes of gaining new fans in a younger generation, view his full discography online.