One of hard rock and metal's greatest voices was silenced when Ronnie James Dio succumbed to stomach cancer, passing away at the age of 67 on May 16, 2010.

Dio's diagnosis came during something of a creative renaissance in his career. New releases from his namesake band suffered declining sales during the '90s and early 21st century, with late-period efforts like 2000's Magica and 2004's Master of the Moon missing the charts completely in the U.S.

Still, he'd recently reconnected with his former Black Sabbath bandmates to form a new band, Heaven & Hell. Their 2009 album The Devil You Know enjoyed an enthusiastic reception from fans and critics alike.

Dio's Sabbath reunion added satisfying closure to a crucial yet contentious chapter in his distinguished career. He'd stepped in for the fired Ozzy Osbourne in late 1979, breathing new life into the flagging band with 1980's Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules the following year. Then personality conflicts brought this version of the band's oft-shifting lineup to an unfortunately speedy end — and efforts to recapture the magic a decade later with the 1992 Dehumanizer album proved equally short-lived.

By then, Dio was accustomed to dealing with changing personnel: During his stint as the singer for Rainbow, he and Ritchie Blackmore were the only constants in the band. The carousel of musicians who passed through Dio following the dissolution of the group's classic Holy Diver lineup rarely stayed still for long.

"He was awesome," Slash told Loudwire in an exclusive interview conducted as part of the site's Remembering Ronnie James Dio celebration. "I was a fan from the Rainbow days. I had a band that covered Rainbow songs ... Then in the '80s, I was a big fan of Dio and Sabbath, and also on his own."

What never changed was Dio's distinctive voice — a singular instrument whose range and power were obvious as far back as his early years fronting groups like Ronnie Dio and the Prophets, and started truly coming into its own with Elf, the band whose lineup Blackmore would ultimately poach for the first Rainbow LP.

"I never met him until, I think, 2007 or something — we both had our hands on the Rockwalk at Guitar Center in Hollywood," Slash added. "He was just the nicest guy. A sweetheart of a guy. We were friends for a short period until he passed away. He's an icon, you know? And one of the examples of what you'd want to be if you ever make it to that level in music."

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