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The Last in Line's goose bump-inducing title track probably wasn't the first tender acoustic intro to a hard-hammering song — but it was definitely the seminal one, and the soft start would soon become a convention, then cliché. As Obituary guitarist Ralph Santolla said in a statement, "There's not a person in metal today that doesn't owe something to Dio."

Metal came and went over the '80s. Dio's band fractured, but he kept plugging away. He always regretted the keyboard-driven, radio-ready track "Mystery" from The Last in Line, and he never let a record company twist his arm again. The band's ninth album, 2002's Killing the Dragon, cut a wide swath, with songs like a title track, another called "Rock & Roll" and some urban social commentary in "Throw Away the Children." He kept doing what he did, whether the big crowds were there or not.

While Dio flew solo, Sabbath reunited with Ozzy for many a tour. But Ozzy and Sabbath could never hold it together long enough to complete an album, even with renowned producer Rick Rubin supervising sessions. Eventually, they realized who could get the job done: Dio.

In 2007 the Dio-era Sabbath lineup reunited as Heaven & Hell, taking the title from the first Dio-era album and freeing themselves from Ozzy-years material. They got off to a rough start: The three new songs recorded for the Black Sabbath: The Dio Years comp weren't stellar, and "The Devil Cried" might be Dio's worst work as a writer. But the tours were well received, and the group rebounded with the Live From Radio City Music Hall DVD and 2009's The Devil You Know studio LP. The band was going strong last year, when Dio announced he had stomach cancer. As he sang on the first Dio Sabbath song, "Neon Knights": "Good things never last/Nothing's in the past/It always seems to come again."

SkullsNBones.com's Carlos Moreno penned one of the many touching tributes that flooded the Internet on Sunday, May 16. Moreno nailed one of the reasons I hold Dio in even higher regard now than I did in '84. Wrote Moreno, "Most of us can look back and remember the day our greatest hero betrayed us. Ozzy went mainstream. Guns N' Roses went on hiatus for the better part of a decade, then proceeded to put out the worst album of their careers. Kiss went disco for a period.... Dio was never in a soft drink ad. He never had a reality TV show. He never lent his namesake or image to anything that would have let his fans down. He stayed true to his vision of what metal should be."

And despite his status as metal god, he remained humble, a friend and mentor to fellow rock stars and rank-and-file fans. During our Alternative Press interview, I couldn't help but call him "Mr. Dio." And he immediately asked me not to. "Call me Ronnie," he said. "I work for you."

Rest in peace, Ronnie James Dio. You were the employee of the century.

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