LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Adam Yauch, a founding member of pioneering hip-hop group the Beastie Boys who captivated fans with their brash style in early hits like “Fight for Your Right (To Party),” died on Friday after a battle with cancer. He was 47.
Yauch, Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz formed the band that gained fame in the 1980s and stood out not just for their music, but for their ethnicity. In a genre dominated by African-Americans, they were three white Jewish kids from Brooklyn, New York.
The Beastie Boys sold some 40 million records worldwide over more than 20 years. As time passed, Yauch branched into filmmaking and activism, helping raise money for various causes including efforts to help free Tibet from Chinese rule.
“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,” said a statement posted on the band’s website.
In July 2009, Yauch disclosed he had been diagnosed with a tumor in his left salivary gland and lymph node, and he later had surgery and sought medical treatment in Tibet, among other places. In October of that year, he said he was “feeling healthy, strong and hopeful” that he had beaten the disease.
But as recently as last month, it was apparent Yauch was very ill when he missed his group’s introduction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Yauch was born in Brooklyn on August 5, 1964, and taught himself to play bass guitar, forming a band on his 17th birthday that would later become the Beastie Boys. He went by stage name MCA. Diamond was Mike D and Horovitz, Ad-Rock.
Initially, the group played punk rock, but soon switched to rap as that musical genre gained prominence on New York streets and in underground clubs in the early 1980s.
The group’s breakout album, “Licensed to Ill,” was released in 1986 and featured “Fight for Your Right” and “Brass Monkey,” and put it squarely on the music industry’s hitmaker map.
The Beasties followed “Licensed to Ill” with “Paul’s Boutique” (1989), which broke from the hard rock and rap of their debut. That was followed by CDs like “Ill Communication” (1994), with its big single, “Sabotage,” and “Hello Nasty” (1998) that featured the hit “Intergalactic.”
Over the years, the Beasties challenged themselves with shifting musical styles, but their fans remained loyal. They released four No. 1 albums in their career and won three of the music industry’s top awards, the Grammys.
The Recording Academy, which gives out the Grammys, issued a statement calling Yauch “part of one of the most groundbreaking trios in hip-hop.”
Russell Simmons, a co-founder of Def Jam Records, the label that first signed the Beasties to a record deal, posted a message on his website saying, “Adam was incredibly sweet and the most sensitive artist, who I loved dearly.”
Under the alias of Nathanial Hörnblowér, Yauch also directed Beastie Boys videos such as “So Whatcha Want,” “Intergalactic,” “Body Movin” and “Ch-Check It Out.”
He founded independent film company Oscilloscope Laboratories, which makes and distributes low-budget, art-house fare. It recently released the drama “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”
Outside music and film, Yauch formed the Milarepa Foundation, which raised money for post-September 11 disaster relief and other causes. In 1996, Milarepa produced the massive Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Yauch is survived by his wife, Dechen, and his daughter, Tenzin Losel, as well as his parents, Frances and Noel Yauch.
Reporting By Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Peter Cooney