Adam Yauch, "MCA" of the Beastie Boys, dies at 47
Yauch, who was 47, was diagnosed with lymph node cancer in 2009. While it has not been confirmed whether his death was directly related to his cancer, Yauch missed the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month while he continued to fight the disease.
The performer had given indications recently that his battle was more serious than was commonly believed, and even took the unusual step of issuing an official statement last year to let fans know he wasn't out of the woods with his cancer fight. ""While I'm grateful for all the positive energy people are sending my way, reports of my being totally cancer free are exaggerated," Yauch said in the statement last January. "I'm continuing treatment, staying optimistic and hoping to be cancer free in the near future."
Considered one of the most influential hip-hop groups of all-time, the Beastie Boys rose from obscure origins as New York City thrash-rockers to pave the way for white artists to succeed in what had previously been considered an exclusively black genre. The group, formed in 1979, began life as a hardcore punk act when the Brooklyn-born Yauch taught himself to play bass and recruited two of his fellow students -- Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz, who would later bill themselves as Mike D and Ad-Rock, respectively -- from the borough's Edward R. Murrow High School. By the time Yauch had turned 22, the Beasties had transformed themselves into a hip-hop trio, releasing their debut album, "Licensed to Ill," in 1986 on Def Jam Records.
The group became an overnight sensation and a lightning rod for criticism due to its persistent presence on MTV, which aired videos of the band's juvenile brand of hijinx and frat-boy slapstick almost endlessly during the middle years of the decade. Despite its detractors, "Licensed to Ill" spent five weeks at the No. 1 spot on The Billboard 200, launching a lengthy and productive recording career for the group.
When the time came to produce a follow-up, the band responded with 1989's "Paul's Boutique," widely considered its masterpiece, and one of the most enduring artifacts of '80s hip-hop. The sprawling double album featured production work by Dust Brothers and spanned a huge amount of turf, stylistically, with the group focusing more on its lyricism and craft that the slapstick comedy rap that had preceded it. While it didn't sell as well as the band's debut, it earned the trip an even more valuable commodity: respect inside the universe of serious musicians and taste-makers.
Yauch, assuming the pseudonym Nathaniel Hornblower, continued to shape the group's legacy by directing many of the band's groundbreaking videos; he would later go on to form a film production company, Oscilloscope Laboratories.
The band continued producing hit albums through much of the '90s and into the next millennium, although the group's output had slowed in recent years. The band had planned on releasing its latest album, "Hot Sauce Committee Part 1," in 2009, plans that were disrupted -- along with a schedule concert tour -- with the discovery of a cancerous tumor in Yauch's parotid gland and lymph node. The Beasties eventually released the intended followup, "Hot Sauce Committee Part 2," last spring, following Yauch's treatment by surgery and followup radiation therapy.
Yauch, a practicing Buddhist, was a strong advocate for Tibetan causes, co-founding the Milarepa Fund in the mid-'90s, which raises funds for Tibetan independence.
He is survived by his wife, Dechen Wangdu, and a daughter, Tenzin Losel Yauch, as well as his parents, Frances and Noel Yauch.