Adam Yauch, Beastie Boys' MCA, Dies at 47

Adam Yauch pr obit P

UPDATED: The founding member of the iconic hip-hop group was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009.

Adam "MCA" 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 Friday afternoon.

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

Yauch 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 them going platinum and four hitting No. 1, and sold a combined 22 million units stateside and more than 40 million worldwide.

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 Luscious 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---ed 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 Beasties 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 Luscious 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.

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 concert film captured by fans at the band’s 2004 Madison Square Garden show. 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.

In 2008, Yauch launched Oscilloscope Pictures, a film distribution and international sales division of his Oscilloscope Laboratories that includes a recording studio and production unit. Under Oscilloscope, Yauch with the theatrical release of such films as The Messenger (Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (Tilda Swinton), while handling home entertainment for other films like Exit Through the Gift Shop.

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, 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.”

“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 shit they knew about: skateboarding, going to White Castle, angel dust and television. Real recognizes real.”

He is survived by wife Dechen Wangdu and their daughter, Losel.