R.I.P. Adam Yauch

Unbelievably, crushingly sad news to report. TMZ reports that Adam Yauch, otherwise known as Beastie Boys member MCA, has died. At this point, no cause has been revealed, though it’s likely to have something to do with the cancerous tumor that he was diagnosed with in 2009. He was 47.

The Brooklyn-born Yauch formed the hardcore-punk version of the Beasties in the early ’80s. He played bass, and they played their first show on his 17th birthday. When the Beasties switched over to snot-nosed white-rap pranksters, Yauch seemed like the toughest of the three. His voice was the hardest and the hoarsest, he always had a leather jacket and a three-day beard, and when the Beasties opened up Madonna’s Like A Virgin tour, he’s the one who ended up making out with her.

In the Beasties’ middle period, Yauch got really into snowboarding and also into filmmaking. Under his Nathaniel Hornblower pseudonym, Yauch directed a number of the group’s videos. Later on, he founded the film studio Oscilloscope Laboratories, which distributed movies like Exit Through The Gift Shop, Wendy And Lucy, and Bellflower. He also directed the Beasties concert film Awesome, I Fuckin’ Shot That and the enormously likable high-school basketball documentary Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot.

As the Beasties went on, Yauch became the group’s conscience. He became a Buddhist, and, toward the end of his life, a vegan. He’s the one who drove the group’s interest in the Tibetan rights cause, leading to the massive Tibetan Freedom Concerts that the group played in the late-’90s. On the Ill Communication single “Sure Shot,” he’s the one who said, “To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends / I wanna offer my love and respect to the end.”

After Yauch was diagnosed with cancer, the Beasties canceled all their touring and recording plans. He seemed to be confident and in good spirits about his condition, though. He kept fans updated about his treatments, and he remained semi-active with the Beasties. The group released the playful, joyous Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 album last year, and Yauch directed the fun and cameo-packed long-form “Make Some Noise” video.

Even after that diagnosis, Yauch’s loss comes as a sudden shock; it’s hard not to feel like you were punched in the chest upon learning of it. The Beasties are one of the most important and influential pop-music forces of the past three decades or so, and it’s impossible to measure how much of an effect Yauch had on rap’s rise to dominance, on skater culture, on the ’90s youth-culture drive for geopolitical change, on indie film, and on popular culture in general. On top of that, he seemed like a fundamentally decent human being during his decades in the spotlight. Given the amount of money and attention the Beasties got when they were young and crazy, it’s a no-joke miracle that he carried themselves with such humility and humanity.

Here are some examples of why he was so great: