Wendy Dio Talks Ronnie James Dio Memorial Weekend, Metal Community Support + More
May 16 will mark the fifth anniversary of the death of metal icon Ronnie James Dio from stomach cancer. The rocker gave us a stellar catalog of music throughout the years and left many a fan with memories to cherish due to his incredible generosity with his time. After his passing, that giving nature has continued with the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund, which will mark the five-year anniversary with a pair of fundraisers and a free public memorial this weekend (May 15-17) in Los Angeles.
Loudwire had a chance to speak with Wendy Dio, Ronnie's widow and President and Co-Founder of the organization. We chatted about the upcoming Ronnie James Dio Memorial Weekend activities, the continued support of the metal community and the importance of early cancer detection. Check out the chat below.
What does it mean to you that the metal world has continued to embrace Ronnie in these years since his passing?
I'm very humbled actually. Obviously Ronnie was not just a great performer and a great talent, but he was also a great friend to people and he loved his fans. I'm really proud of them that they're keeping up the support and keeping his legacy and his music alive.
We know that respect for Ronnie went a long way. But in recent years have you heard from people that you never suspected had been affected by Ronnie?
Yes, yes. I mean Corey Taylor from Slipknot. When he came forward to do the tribute record, and Killswitch Engage, Halestorm all these younger bands as well as all the older people like the Scorpions, Metallica … everybody has just been amazing, absolutely amazing.
And you just mentioned the tribute album. What did it mean to you to see the response from the Grammy organization, not only receiving two nods (Anthrax, Tenacious D), but a win in the Metal Performance category for Tenacious D?
Oh, I'm amazed. It was amazing. I just wished Ronnie had been alive to see one of his songs get a Grammy, cause he would have been so, so proud. I'm sure he was looking down enjoying it.
Part of Ronnie's legacy along with the music has been the Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund. You have done so much over the last five years.
We just got off the Monsters of Rock Cruise. We're their charity and we came back with $48,000 for the charity which is amazing from all the different activities we did on the cruise. We did a rock 'n' roll bingo, we did a live auction, a dine-and-donate luncheon. We did all kinds of stuff, and it was just amazing -- amazing to talk to all the fans there that are still keeping Ronnie's memory alive.
It looked like a great time.
Well, this is the third year we've been on it, and each year it gets bigger. It's an amazing thing. It's great. The fans can intermingle with the artists that are on there and everyone is so polite, such wonderful people. It was just amazing to see how graciously they support it.
With Stand Up and Shout, the organization is now five plus years into operation ...
Yeah, it came about because when Ronnie passed away, a lot of people wanted to donate money and asked where we wanted it to be donated. I'm very cautious about certain charities, because a lot have high administration costs. And I wanted that if a fan gave us a dollar, it went directly to research and education and didn't go in some fat cat's pocket. So we decided, there were 14 of us that were Ronnie's really close friends and most in the music business, we formed the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund.
They're just a hard working board. No one takes a salary. There's not a penny to administration costs. We use my office. We use my staff. And nobody gets paid and everybody just does a fantastic job. And pulling this memorial weekend together, I couldn't have done it without their help and all of Ronnie's great friends and the Cancer Fund Board of Directors.
We started off wanting to do the memorial, cause it's five years now. We do a private memorial for Ronnie every year with about 30 people, but we decided this year we would do it for the fans. So we booked Forest Lawn and the auditorium and it kind of went from there. We've had people coming from as far away as Japan, Australia, Minnesota, wherever, and they're all coming in, so surely we should do something for them on the side, because obviously the memorial is free. So we decided we would do the Celebrity Bowling and the Ride for Ronnie with the barbecue, which are fundraisers for the cancer.
And then I thought more about the memorial, cause it's already filled up inside but we've got the outside as well and I think there's about 3,000 people so far and we have a big pop-up screen so everyone can watch what is going on and then I decided, 'Why don't we do a little mini-museum?' So we're doing a mini museum for everyone to see different things of Ronnie's that I thought would be of interest -- some of his awards and letters and photos and stage clothes and different things like that. There's the original artwork from Holy Diver and things like that which I think they would enjoy looking at.
That sounds amazing. I can't wait to check that out. Anything that you've included that is maybe a personal favorite item of yours?
His microphone and oh gosh, there's a letter that George Harrison wrote to Ronnie, asking for his autograph for his maid, which we framed and put a picture of George Harrison with it. Ronnie didn't frame it, I did after he passed away cause Ronnie would never think of doing something like that. It was like, 'Okay, I'll give him an autograph,' and put the letter in the drawer (laughs). Oh well and what else is in there -- Holy Diver, the original artwork. That obviously was an interesting phase for Ronnie and I.
The bowling tournament, you had a chance to do a trial run of it last fall.
Yes, with TJ Martel. Yes, we did. So we hope it's as successful or more than that. And Jack Black has been very gracious. He's going to be one of the bowlers. And Tom Morello, all kinds of people are gonna be bowling.
I know it's a fundraiser and it's also a good time for all involved, but have you discovered that any of these people are actually pretty serious bowlers?
(Laughs) Yeah, well Jack can. And Mark Ferrar, he won the title last year and he wants to keep his title.
And the Motorcycle Rally and barbecue…
Yeah, well that's a first for us. We're hoping that that will go well and if it does, we'll make it an annual thing. But it's gonna be a lot of fun. We're starting off at Harley Davidson in Glendale and I'm riding on the back (laughs). Lita Ford's riding. Sean McNabb, a bunch of other celebrities are riding and we will ride from Glendale to Encino to the park and have a barbecue with live music. Eddie Money is gonna be performing, DC4, Dio Disciples, Gabbie Rae, a whole bunch of people will be performing. And we want this to be a celebration of Ronnie's life, so it should be happy and it should be a celebration because Ronnie wouldn't want us to be sad and I think this will be a fun thing for everyone to enjoy in the park.
You've worked with Ronnie for a long time and have been vital in some of the reissues as well. For you personally was there a favorite album or tour cycle Ronnie was involved in?
Obviously Holy Diver, because it was his first solo thing and we mortgaged our house to help pay for the record and we did a lot of things first hand. It was a very exciting time. And I think going back to Sabbath or Heaven and Hell, the last time was very exciting because I think it was meant to be. The book was closed. He had performed with them before and he had always said they were the best musicians he had ever worked with in his life. He enjoyed it so much. He had to keep up with Tony [Iommi] and Geezer [Butler] and Vinny [Appice] and they all played to make each other better. And this last time, everyone was so happy and everything was going so well. It was elation for us. It had come full circle and he was having such a good time with them.
And as much as Ronnie was in the public eye, you had more of an insight into him than any of us. Is there anything you would like to share that maybe wasn't common knowledge about the man and who he was?
I think most people know those things, but he loved sports. He loved to watch sports, particularly baseball and football. And he absolutely loved and adored his animals -- dogs, cats, whatever we had. He did a lot of charity work for animals with the Brittany Foundation. He was actually a very private person in life when he wasn't on the road. He had a circle of friends, not many friends, but very close friends and he would just have parties, New Year's Eve parties or just parties for some reason at the house and people would just come over to the house all the time. That's what he enjoyed doing. He enjoyed people. Ronnie enjoyed people.
And some sad news that just came across with the death of Elf/Rainbow bassist Craig Gruber …
Yes, we posted on our site. That was very sad. Another person that went with cancer. You know it's a horrible disease and we have to try to get a cure for this dreadful disease. Early detection saves lives. I mean if you're over 50 you should definitely get checked -- especially men. Men are terrible. They won't go to the doctor. They don't get checked. Men, you have to drag 'em there. But go for your loved one.
And we will have on site actually at the memorial and the barbecue, we have Dr. Kapoor who is on our board of directors and we will have his medical staff there. And we're giving away free sunscreen and making people aware of skin cancer and how you should protect yourself from the sun.
Wendy, thank you for your time and we'll see you at the memorial weekend.
And thank you for your continued support. We really, really appreciate it.
To learn more about the Ronnie James Dio Memorial Weekend bowling tournament, public memorial and motorcycle rally and barbecue, click here. To make donations to the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund, you can do so at this location.
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