Heavy metal legend Ronnie James Dio has died.

The musician - who replaced Ozzy Osbourne as the frontman of Black Sabbath in 1979 - passed away yesterday (16.05.10) at the age of 67 at a hospital in Houston, Texas, after losing his battle with stomach cancer.

His wife-and-manager Wendy wrote on his official website: "Today my heart is broken, Ronnie passed away at 7.45am 16th May. Many, many friends and family were able to say their private goodbyes 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."

Dio, who was diagnosed with cancer last November, is considered to be one of the pivotal figures in heavy metal music.

Although he is best known for fronting Black Sabbath he also worked with the bands Elf, Rainbow - which was created by former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore - and Dio.

His final band Heaven & Hell - which was named after the first Dio-era Black Sabbath album and comprised of former Black Sabbath members Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and drummer Vinny Appice - announced at the start of the year they were cancelling all their touring commitments due to Dio's ill health.

A number of tributes have poured in for Dio since news of death emerged.

Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich penned a tribute praising the rocker for inspiring him to become a musician.

Ulrich said: "Dear Ronnie, I just got off stage in Zagreb. I was met with the news that you've passed on. I'm kind of in shock, but I wanted you to know that you were one of the main reasons I made it onto that stage to begin with.

"When I first saw you in Elf, opening for Deep Purple in 1975, I was completely blown away by the power in your voice, your presence on stage, your confidence, and the ease with which you seemed to connect to 6,000 Danish people and one starry-eyed 11 year old."

Former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash wrote on his Facebook page: "Ronnie died at 7.45am this morning, but his music will live for eternity."

Osbourne also paid a simple tribute to the man who replaced him in Black Sabbath, writing on his twitter page: "Rest in Peace Ronnie."