Adam Yauch co-founded the Beastie Boys in 1979 with Mike D, Mix Master Mike and Ad Roc. They won multiple Grammys over the years.
The cause and place of death wasn't immediately known. Yauch, who's also known as MCA, was diagnosed with a cancerous parotid gland in 2009. He had undergone surgery and radiation.
Last year, he posted an update on the Beastie Boys' website that he was not cancer-free, but "staying optimistic." At the time, Yauch expressed hope it was "very treatable," but his illness caused the group to cancel shows and delayed the release of its 2011 album, "Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2."
He hadn't performed in public since 2009 and was absent when the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April.
The Brooklyn-born Yauch created the Beastie Boys with high school friend Michael "Mike D" Diamond. Originally conceived as a hardcore punk group, it soon became a hip-hop trio after Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz joined. They released their chart-topping debut "Licensed to Ill" in 1986, a raucous album led by the anthem "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)".
But in the seven studio albums that followed, the Beastie Boys expanded considerably and grew more musically ambitious. Their follow-up, 1989's "Paul's Boutique," ended any suggestion of the group as a one-hit wonder. Extensive in its sampling and sonically layered, the album was ranked the 156th greatest album ever by Rolling Stone magazine in 2003.
The Beastie Boys would later take up their own instruments -- a rarity in hip-hop -- on the album "Check Your Head" and subsequent releases.
The Beastie Boys established themselves as one of the most respected groups in hip-hop at a time when white rappers were few.
Introducing the group at the Rock Hall, Public Enemy rapper Chuck D said the Beastie Boys "broke the mold."
"The Beastie Boys are indeed three bad brothers who made history," said Chuck D. "They brought a whole new look to rap and hip-hop. They proved that rap could come from any street -- not just a few."
Yauch also went under the pseudonym Nathanial Hornblower when working as a filmmaker. He directed numerous videos for the group, as well as the 2006 concert film "Awesome: I F----- Shot That!" He also co-founded the film distribution company Osciolloscope Laboratories, named after his New York studio.
Yauch is survived by his wife, Dechen Wangdu, and his daughter, Tenzin Losel Yauch.
Yauch is survived by his wife and daughter.
He was 47.