Adam Yauch co-founded the Beastie Boys with Mike D (Mike Diamond) and Ad Roc (Adam Horowitz) in 1979. They won multiple Grammys over the years after striking it big with their first studio album, Licensed to Ill, in 1986. Other acclaimed albums included Paul's Boutique, Check Your Head and Ill Communication.
The group's most recent record, their eighth studio album, entitled Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2., was released in 2011.
In 2009, Yauch announced that he was being treated for a cancerous tumor in his salivary gland.
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 the announcement.
Last year, he posted an update on the Beastie Boys' website that he was not cancer-free, but "staying optimistic."
The Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, but Yauch did not attend the ceremony due to his failing health. Horovitz and Diamond read a note from Yauch, ending with him calling his wife and his young daughter his soulmates. He also recently was quoted by Rolling Stone that news of him beating cancer were greatly exaggerated.
Yauch's representatives confirmed that the rapper died Friday morning in New York after a nearly three-year battle with cancer.
The Brooklyn-born Yauch created the Beastie Boys with high school friend Michael "Mike D" Diamond. Originally conceived as a hardcore punk group, it became a hip-hop trio soon 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!)".
Russell Simmons, whose Def Jam label released "Licensed to Ill," said on his website: "Adam was incredibly sweet and the most sensitive artist, who I loved dearly. I was always inspired by his work."
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 that the group was 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 trio of white Jewish kids 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," Chuck D said. "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.