Adam Yauch, a.k.a. MCA, of the Beastie Boys has died at 47 after a three year battle with cancer of the parotid gland and a nearby lymph node. He is survived by his wife Dechen Wangdu and their daughter Tenzin Losel.
The Brooklynite began the Beastie Boys on his seventeenth birthday after teaching himself how to play bass guitar. Mike D, Ad Rock and MCA — the names are synonymous with mine and many others’ adolescences. When Yauch was twenty-two, the Beastie Boys released their first album, Licensed to Ill, which Yauch, under the pseudonym “Nathanial Hörnblowér”, went on to produce several music videos for. It was a seminal record in Hip Hop history which broke down many barriers while still managing to retain artistic integrity- a feat made more astounding by the fact that the album was released under the mega-label, Def Jam Records. The trio would go on to release eight albums in total.
All too often, when someone in the public spotlight passes, all the sordid details of their life begin to surface in the press. Over the course of my research, only the grace with which Yauch lived his life and its numerous, charitable accomplishments has become abundantly evident.
In 2002, Yauch founded an independent distribution company called Oscilloscope Laboratories. The company has produced several astounding titles: Dear Zachary, Wendy and Lucy, The Messenger and Howl, to name a few. It is a testament to his quiet humility that I did not learn of his involvement in these remarkable movies until after his passing.
In April of this year, the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Hall of Fame, with Yauch in absentia. Ad Rock (Adam Horovitz) read a letter to the crowd written by Yauch, who dedicated the honor to his fellow Beasties, “who have walked the globe with me.” The letter went on to say,”To anyone who has been touched by our band, who our music has meant something to, this induction is as much ours as it is yours.”
Yauch was a practicing Buddhist. On a trip to Asia, Yauch met Tibetan refugees while hiking in the Himalayas and this inspired him to pursue Buddhism. He also became an important figure in the Tibetan Independence Movement. In May 1994, he created the Milarepa Fund, which continues to raise money and promote awareness for the Tibetan plight today. The fund was named after the 11th century Tibetan singer-yogi Milarepa, a major figure in Tibetan Buddhism. Yauch also organized a series of Tibetan Freedom concerts for the cause.
The Beastie Boys officially confirmed his passing on their website, stating, “It is with great sadness that we confirm that musician, rapper, activist and director, Adam “MCA” Yauch, founding member of Beastie Boys and also of the Milarepa Foundation that produced the Tibetan Freedom Concert benefits, and film production and distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories, passed away in his native New York City this morning after a near-three-year battle with cancer. He was 47 years old.”
Yauch passed away at 9 a.m. At Manhattan’s New York-Presbyterian Hospital, to which he had been admitted on April 14.
The New York Mets paid tribute to the fallen Beastie by changing each member’s walk up song to a different Beastie Boys track. An outpouring of tributes flooded New York’s Lower East Side and East Village. Yauch, long considered the innovative center of the group will be remembered as a musical genius with an immeasurable heart.
It is with my own heavy heart that I report on Adam Nathanial Yauch’s passing. On May 4th, the world lost a true beacon for compassion, justice, humility and integrity. You will be sorely missed Adam.