Ronnie James Dio, 1942-2010


My favorite and longest-running Dungeons and Dragons character, during the two or three years when playing the game was the most important thing in my life, was a Dwarf named Gimli. A chaotic good thief with a strength of 25 and a gruff, dogged demeanor like the Tolkien creation who inspired him, Gimli ransacked the castles and mountain lairs of Middle Earth with his compatriot, my friend Chris’ wizard, Gandalf. It’s hard to overstate the extent to which my own pre-pubescent identity was wrapped up with that of Gimli. I saw him as embodying all the qualities I hoped I might have in myself: courage, loyalty, a good sense of humor in the face of danger, a rebellious streak. He was short, like I was, but overcame his disadvantages with a big heart.

Chris and Blair Bryan and Brad Brokaw and I would play the game for twelve hours at a time, getting into screaming arguments, and sometimes fist fights, over the results of the rolls of the 20-sided dice. My dad sat me down for a talk once after he read an article in the paper about people reenacting their role-playing battles with real weapons in the subway tunnels in the city. “You and Chris aren’t doing anything like that are you?” he asked. Of course we weren’t. (Like I could have lifted a real battle-axe more than two inches of the ground. My dad must not have understood how heavy those things were; how strong Gimli was.)

After months of adventures, when Gimli was finally killed-I forget what got him, whether it was a geryon or a morkoth or a pit fiend or yellow mold or what; I think Brad was dungeon master-I remember burying my face in a pillow in Chris’s room. We were of an age and social status that assured that none of us would be talking to any girls anytime soon, but it was still not cool to cry in front of your friends. I walked home with an aching empty feeling in my chest, like I had lost a part of myself.

I was reminded of that feeling yesterday, when I read that Ronnie James Dio had died of stomach cancer at the age of 67. One of heavy-metal’s all-time great voices, the New Hampshire-born Dio sang for Elf, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Black Sabbath (with whom he wrote classics like “Heaven and Hell” and “Children of the Sea”) and, of course his own band, Dio.

And no one has ever wielded a two-handed broad-sword more convincingly in a music video.