Adam Yauch (MCA) of the Beastie Boys dead at 47

May 4, 2012 at 1:14 PM ET

Updated 2:30 p.m. PT: Adam Yauch, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year with his pioneering rap trio Beastie Boys and founded the indie film company Oscilloscope Pictures, has died. He was 47. His longtime representatives confirmed the news this afternoon.

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Chris Polk
A look back at the career of the Beastie Boys rapper, rocker, director and activist.


"It is with great sadness that we confirm that musician, rapper, activist and director Adam 'MCA' Yauch, founding member of Beastie Boys ... passed away in his native New York City this morning after a near-three-year battle with cancer," a statement on the group's website said.

In 2009, Yauch was treated for a cancerous parotid gland and a lymph node and underwent surgery and radiation therapy, delaying the group’s release of the group’s album "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two" and a tour that included a headlining slot at Lollapalooza. He announced the news on YouTube in July of that year.  

MCA brought social consciousness to Beastie Boys

Yauch, known to Beasties fans by his stage name MCA, was unable to attend the Rock Hall induction ceremony April 14 in Cleveland. He said last year that he was “continuing treatment, staying optimistic and hoping to be cancer-free in the near future."

Beastie Boys exploded on the national scene in late 1986 with the top 10 single “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party).” The group’s debut album, "Licensed to Ill," became the first rap disc to top the Billboard 200, eventually spending seven weeks at No. 1 and selling more than 9 million units in the U.S.

The trio released eight albums, six of going platinum and four hitting No. 1, and sold a combined 22 million units stateside and more than 40 million worldwide.

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Yauch, who dropped out of Bard College, and Michael “Mike D” Diamond co-founded Beastie Boys in 1981 as a hardcore punk act. The group, then a quartet including future Lucious Jackson drummer Kate Schellenbach, released an EP titled "Polly Wog Stew." Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz joined soon after, and the group began gravitating to the burgeoning New York hip-hop scene.

By 1984, the group had begun a working relationship with Rick Rubin, then a student at NYU who would go on to found Def Jam Records with Simmons, who became the band’s manager. “We started doing rap in our shows,” Yauch told the Washington Post in 1987. “We’d put down the instruments and rap for half the show. Then we just decided it would be kind of exciting to be an all-rap band. And we met Russell Simmons, and he was like: ‘Oh, this is really cool. A white rap group’s really cool.’ And when we found out he was Run-DMC’s manager, we thought, ‘Wow!’ “

The Beasties caught their big break as the opening act on Madonna’s Virgin Tour of North America in 1985. “We f----- with the audience,” Horovitz told New York magazine last year. “They hated us. Kids literally in tears, parents wanting to kill us. It was awesome.”

Released on Def Jam, "License to Ill" was released Nov. 15, 1986, to nearly instant success. The group’s first headlining tour started in clubs and grew to arenas, eventually hitting the U.K. and Japan. The group split with Def Jam, signed with Capitol and released the sample-heavy "Paul’s Boutique" in 1989. The Dust Brothers-produced disc didn’t match the commercial heights of its predecessor, but critics swooned, and it continues to show up on various lists of all-time greatest albums.

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In 1992, the group founded the Grand Royal imprint, whose roster included Sean Lennon and Lucious Jackson and a similarly named magazine. Beastie Boys continued to record and tour during the ’90s and 2000s. The trio’s most recent album, "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two," debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Its release had been delayed after Yauch’s cancer was diagnosed.

Under the pseudonym Nathaniel Hornblower, Yauch directed several of the Beasties’ videos including “Intergalactic” and “Ch-Check It Out” along with "Awesome; I F---in’ Shot That!" a feature-length film captured by fans at the band’s Madison Square Garden concert in 2004. He also directed – under his real name -- the 2008 documentary "Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot," about high school basketball stars competing in the inaugural “Elite 24” tournament at Harlem’s Rucker Park.

Yauch launched Oscilloscope Pictures in 2008, a film distribution and international sales unit of his Oscilloscope Laboratories that includes a recording studio and production unit. Under Oscilloscope, Yauch distributed such successful films as "Dark Days," "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and "The Messenger" (Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson).

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Born in Brooklyn to a Catholic father and Jewish mother, Yauch became a practicing Buddhist. In 1994, he established the Milarepa Fund -- an organization dedicated to the promotion of nonviolence -- and became a leader of the movement to liberate Tibet from an oppressive half-century of Chinese occupation. He organized the first "Tibetan Freedom Concert" in San Francisco in 1996.

In an 2004 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC described the first time his group toured with the Beasties -- in 1986 at a stop in the South where “it was just black people at those shows.”

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“The first night was somewhere in Georgia, and we were thinking, ‘I hope people don't leave when they see them,’ ” he told the magazine, which ranked the Beasties No. 77 on its list of the greatest artists as all time. “But the crowd loved them, because they weren't trying to be black rappers. They rapped about s--- they knew about: skateboarding, going to White Castle, angel dust and television. Real recognizes real.”

He is survived by wife Dechen Wengdu and their daughter Tenzin Losel.

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