The Beastie Boys’s Adam Yauch, who went by the stage name MCA, died this morning at the terribly young age of 47. He had been battling cancer of the salivary gland since 2009.

For me, losing a Beastie Boy is like what losing a Beatle was to my father’s generation. Yauch was a visionary, a great musician, the group’s conscience and most politicized member and, possibly, the coolest guy in New York.

A practicing Buddhist, Yauch used his fame on behalf of countless peace and justice causes over the years, was heavily involved in the movement to free Tibet and co-organized the Tibetan Freedom Concerts of the late nineties. When the Beastie Boys accepted an award at the 1998 MTV Music Video Awards, Yauch presciently introduced millions of young viewers to Islamophobia: “Another thing that America really needs to think about is our racism….towards the Muslim people and towards Arabic people and that’s something that has to stop and the United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East.” Even with the onset of cancer in 2009, MCA kept up. As Occupy Wall Street just tweeted: “Adam Yauch marched w/us in Nov. over the Brooklyn Bridge. A visionary artist who never lost sight of his community. “

Yauch was born an only child in Brooklyn. While attending Edward R. Murrow High School, he taught himself to play the bass guitar, and formed the initial incarnation of the Beastie Boys with Mike Diamond (a k a Mike D. ) and, shortly thereafter, Adam Horovitz (a k a Ad-Rock.) They played their first show on Yauch’s seventeenth birthday. Yauch attended Bard College for two years before dropping out to focus on music. The rest is musical history. RIP.