By Whitney Pastorek
Updated May 16, 2010 at 11:14 PM EDT

Image Credit: David Atlas/Retna Ltd. Heavy metal icon Ronnie James Dio, whose eternal wail fronted bands like Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Dio for close to four decades, died today at the reported age of 67. Dio was diagnosed with stomach cancer in November of 2009; in a statement on his official website, Dio’s wife and manager Wendy Dio wrote, “Today my heart is broken, Ronnie passed away at 7:45am 16th May. Many, many friends and family were able to say their private good-byes before he peacefully passed away. Ronnie knew how much he was loved by all. We so appreciate the love and support that you have all given us. Please give us a few days of privacy to deal with this terrible loss. Please know he loved you all and his music will live on forever.”

Though reports differ about his age, most believe Ronald James Padavona was born July 10, 1942, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 1958, he released his first record with Ronnie & The Redcaps, lending backup vocals and playing trumpet. After a name change to Ronnie Dio and the Prophets, the group disbanded in 1967, and Dio and bandmate Nick Pantas started the Electric Elves, going on to open for Deep Purple and shortening their name to Elf. Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore eventually recruited Dio and Pantas for a new group called Rainbow in 1975 (a name inspired by legendary Sunset Strip joint the Rainbow Bar and Grill); that group released three studio albums that introduced Dio’s epic fantastical lyricism to the world, in songs like “The Temple of the King” and “Stargazer.”

By 1979, Dio had left Rainbow, and replaced the malfunctioning Ozzy Osbourne as lead singer of Black Sabbath. The new lineup released Heaven and Hell in 1980, revitalizing the band’s career. It was during his stint in Black Sabbath that Dio also popularized throwing devil horns at the audience, a gesture he reportedly picked up from his Italian grandmother.

After two more albums with Sabbath — 1981’s Mob Rules and 1982’s Live Evil — Dio and drummer Vinny Appice left to form the band Dio. (Dio and Black Sabbath would briefly reunite in 1992 for Dehumanizer.) 1983’s Holy Diver went platinum, and the group would weather several lineup changes over the next two-plus decades, recording nine more studio albums (the last was 2004’s Master of the Moon) and continuing to function in one way or another up to the present day; they were reportedly planning a new album for 2010.

In 2006, Dio and members of Black Sabbath teamed up to form the band Heaven & Hell; that same year, Dio made a brilliant cameo in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, playing a poster of himself come to life to inspire a young Jack Black to pursue his rock n’ roll dreams. Heaven & Hell released a live album of Sabbath classics titled Live from Radio City Music Hall in 2007, and a studio album called The Devil You Know in 2009. They were scheduled to tour Europe this summer, but the dates were cancelled due to Dio’s fading health. Dio was able to make an appearance at Revolver‘s Golden God Awards this April in L.A., where he was honored with the Liquid Metal Best Vocalist Award for The Devil You Know.

Dio’s longtime marriage to manager Wendy Galaxiola was his second; he and first wife Loretta had one adopted son, Dan Padavona.

Finally, the L.A. Times posted the following video, and we agree it’s a fitting memorial:

A link on Dio’s official website leads to a Facebook page where fans are being encouraged to leave condolences. We’ll have an appreciation of Dio’s work here on the Music Mix tomorrow; meanwhile, feel free to leave memories and favorite performances in the comments.