In many ways, Ronnie James Dio seemed like a man born in the wrong era. Perhaps he should have lived in Europe in medieval times, when kingdoms were conquered with metal — swords, axes, armor, and various devices of torture.
But Dio was born in the 20th century right here in Portsmouth, and his conquests involved a different kind of metal. During a career that spanned more than 50 years, he fronted such bands as Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio, and Heaven & Hell, winning over legions of heavy-metal fans with his raw vocal prowess. By the time he died of stomach cancer in 2010, Dio had sold more than 47 million albums, and had further left his mark on the genre by popularizing the “metal horns” gesture — extending your index and pinky fingers into the air, often while head-banging.
There is a Ronnie James Dio monument in Kavarna, Bulgaria, and there has been a metal fest held in his honor in Mexico. And yet Portsmouth has no Dio memorial.
Some local Dio fans hope to change that. An online petition addressed to the Portsmouth City Council and Mayor Jack Blalock calls for the construction of a Ronnie James Dio statue in the city’s South End — specifically, in Prescott Park.
South End resident Brian Kelly launched the petition on March 14. By 4 p.m. the next day, it had already collected well over 500 signatures, and the number was climbing by the minute.
“Portsmouth should have a statue of Dio because he is a native son who was hugely influential to music, specifically heavy metal,” Kelly said in an email. “Every time someone throws up the horns, they evoke Dio, and we should be proud that he called our town home.”
The petition suggests that the city could pay for the memorial with funds set aside for artistic installations. Multiple designs would be presented for a statue, bust, or other memorial, preferably constructed out of metal and including a “water feature.”
“We would love to see him to be depicted as he was in the video for Holy Diver, sword in hand, ready to fight for the Arts and what is right,” the petition says.
A memorial for a heavy-metal icon might be a tall order for the South End, where some residents have been known to raise objections to outdoor movies, concerts, food festivals, ice-skating rinks, and EPA-mandated wastewater plant upgrades. But Kelly is optimistic that the idea will enjoy widespread support.
“I think South End residents, myself included, as fervent supporters of the arts, would be thrilled to have a memorialization of a figure who was such an influential artist,” he said. “What better place to put this than Prescott Park, where residents and visitors alike enjoy music and performance all summer long?”