Five Years Ago Today: Beastie Boys’ Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch Dies
On May 4, 2012, the music world was dealt a crushing blow with the news that Adam Yauch, better known as “MCA” to Beastie Boys fans, had passed away at the age of 47. As a member of the pioneering trio, Yauch helped the Beasties meld the worlds of rock and rap together, first as breakout rappers utilizing hard rock samples on the Licensed to Ill album and later revisiting their punk and hardcore roots as a blistering live act that rocked their own instruments. That inventive career led to a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction just a few weeks prior to Yauch’s death.
The musician had been diagnosed with cancer of his parotid gland and a lymph node three years earlier and had undergone surgery and radiation treatment to battle his ailment, and while it appeared as though he had been doing better at certain points in the years since 2009, he ultimately succumbed to the cancer in 2012.
At first, there was a statement from the band’s publicist that read, “It is with great sadness that we confirm that musician, rapper, activist and director Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch … passed away in his native New York City this morning after a near-three-year battle with cancer. He was 47 years old.”
Soon after, both Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D.” Diamond would reach out to fans via social networking. Diamond shared a photo of the New York Knicks paying tribute via the jumbotron at Madison Square Garden, stating, “I know, we should have tweeted and instagrammed every sad, happy and inspired thought, smile or tear by now. But honestly the last few days have just been a blur of deep emotions for our closest friend, band mate and really brother. I miss Adam so much. He really served as a great example for myself and so many of what determination, faith, focus, and humility coupled with a sense of humor can accomplish. The world is in need of many more like him. We love you Adam. BTW this photo sent to me by a friend, (thanks Saslow) is just one awesome example of how NYC is such a unique place that amidst it’s huge size and frenetic pace it really opens up it’s heart in so many ways and on on so many levels in times like these. And though it makes me cry sometimes, it has been really amazing and moving to see.”
Horovitz stated, “As you can imagine, s— is just fkd up right now. but I wanna say thank you to all our friends and family (which are kinda one in the same) for all the love and support. I’m glad to know that all the love that Yauch has put out into the world is coming right back at him.”
Horovitz hit it on the nose as the outpouring of love and support was overwhelming. Saturday Night Live inserted a clip of the Beastie Boys appearing on the show as a tribute. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, which premiered on HBO weeks after the ceremony and featured the Beasties induction, was dedicated to Yauch. And rockers like Slash, Linkin Park, Anthrax, Fred Durst, David Draiman, P.O.D., Randy Blythe, Papa Roach, Tommy Lee, Nonpoint and Godsmack all shared their condolences online.
A few other rockers also offered larger tributes to Yauch. Kid Rock penned a lengthy missive recalling seeing Beastie Boys open for Run-DMC at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena in his youth and how it changed everything for him. “The metal heads liked ‘em, the punk kids, everyone! I dressed like them, pegged and rolled my pants, begged my mom for a pair of Ewings, and so on and so on. I rapped about not giving a f— and crazy s–t like they did in my early years. I also followed their lead in later years, after I became my own person, in believing I could really help a lot of people out. MCA I know was at the forefront of this in the group, and for that I am forever indebted,” said Rock.
Jane’s Addiction‘s Perry Farrell also offered a touching eulogy, recalling to Rolling Stone, “I kind of felt like they were family, but once removed.” Farrell had invited Beastie Boys to play Lollapalooza and also returned the favor by appearing at the Beastie Boys’ Tibetan Freedom Concert. Farrell offered, “He was a good guy — that’s the thing that kind of strikes a really bad chord. He was a really good guy trying to help people, and all about being innocent and wild, and even immature if you want to be. He was really such a part of our party vernacular — our musical vernacular. That’s where it gets me. It’s a very gray day.”
As stated by Rock and Farrell, there was much more to Yauch than just the Beasties’ music. His humanitarian efforts were well documented. He was a practicing Buddhist and did his part for the Tibetan independence movement by staging the Tibetan Freedom Concert and launching the Milarepa Fund.
Diamond recalled to Rolling Stone, “He would disappear for two months of teaching by his Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. He gradually incorporated that into the music. He was the first to realize we had this soapbox and we needed to do something with it.”
Yauch also was a key player in the success of the Beastie Boys, taking on the moniker Nathaniel Hornblower while directing a number of the band’s videos. He also constructed the Oscilloscope Laboratories studio in New York for the band’s recording and later would found an indie film company called Oscilloscope Pictures that would issue the Awesome; I F–in’ Shot That! concert film.
Horovitz would state shortly after Yauch’s death, “[He] was in charge. He was smarter, more organized. In a group of friends, you all come up with stupid s–t to do. But you never do it. With Yauch, it got done. He had that extra drive to see things through. We each had our roles. One of his was the make-it-happen person.”
As for his death, Horovitz would tell Rolling Stone, “I don’t believe Adam was afraid. Bummed out, yeah. But I can’t think when I ever saw him afraid. We got jumped in Brooklyn one time, so we’ve been afraid in that sense. But, man, he hadn’t been afraid in a long time. That gives me peace.”
After Yauch’s passing, his fans gathered together to stage the annual MCA Day in New York, not only sharing memories of the musician but also offering art, music and breakdancing exhibitions. And on Friday, May 3, 2013, a day before the one-year anniversary of Yauch’s death, a public ceremony was held to rename Palmetto Playground in Brooklyn Heights as Adam Yauch Park. The playground was where Yauch spent much of his youth. Horovitz, who was on hand for the dedication with Yauch’s parents, stated, “Me and Adam, we were hanging out in high school late one night and we were walking around Brooklyn and we ended up in this park and he told me how he used to play in this part. I think he’d think it was pretty f—ing cool!”
One other thing that came from MCA’s death was that his will stated that the Beastie Boys music would be laid to rest along with him and that the group would not license music for commercial use. In the time since 2012, the band has spent time in court with several different companies who attempted to use the Beasties music and they’ve emerged victorious.
As of 2017, Horovitz and Diamond were in the process of penning the band’s memoir.