Yauch taught himself how to play the bass in high school, and originally co-founded the group as a hardcore punk outfit. The regular lineup soon became established as a trio of Yauch, Mike 'Mike D' Diamond and Adam 'Ad-Rock' Horovitz. They switched their influences to hip-hop during the early 1980s, hiring Rick Rubin as a DJ and producer and supporting acts including Public Image Ltd and Madonna during this time.
The Beastie Boys' major label debut longplayer
Yauch directed a number of the Beastie Boys' music videos under the pseudonym Nathanial Hörnblowér. He also helmed the band's concert movie Awesome; I F**kin' Shot That - which used footage filmed by 50 audience members at an October 2004 show in Madison Square Gardens - under this pseudonym.
Yauch notably stormed the stage in character during the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards when the video to 'Sabotage' - directed by Spike Jonze - was pipped to the 'Best Direction' prize by REM's 'Everybody Hurts'. Expressing his outrage, Hörnblowér claimed that he came up with the original concept for Star Wars in the process.
Yauch produced a number of records at his Oscilloscope Laboratories studio in New York and directed several films under the same umbrella. His full-length directorial debut under his own name - basketball documentary Gunnin' For That #1 Spot - was released in 2008. He also helmed the star-studded short film Fight for Your Right Revisited last year. Oscilloscope has distributed a number of titles in the United States, including Banksy's Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Yauch also produced the documentary Free Tibet in 1998, which features his wife Dechen Wangdu. He organised the first two-day Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco in 1996 - attended by approximately 100,000 people - and co-founded the Milarepa Fund, which is an American non-profit organisation set up to raise awareness of the Tibetan independence movement. A practising Buddhist, Yauch first developed an interest in the religion following a trip to the Himalayas.
Yauch was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, and underwent surgery and radiation therapy as part of his treatment. He also became a vegan and adopted an organic diet following advice from doctors during a visit to a Tibetan community in Dharamsala the same year.
Yauch was presented with the Charles Flint Kellogg Award from Bard College last year. He attended the institution for two years after high school, and was honoured for his "significant contribution to the American artistic or literary heritage".
Although Yauch was not well enough to attend the Beastie Boys' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2012, a letter was read out on his behalf in which he thanked "[his] brothers Adam and Mike" and the band's fans, saying: "This induction is as much ours as it is yours."
Yauch is survived by his parents, his wife Dechen Wangdu and their daughter, Tenzin Losel Yauch. Yauch and Wangdu married in May 1998 and he reportedly arranged for Rancid - his wife's favourite band - to play at the wedding reception.
His friend Russell Simmons - whose website broke the news of his passing - described Yauch as "[an] incredibly sweet and most sensitive artist who I loved dearly... he will be missed by all of us".
Photo gallery: Adam Yauch's life and career in pictures:
Watch the video for Beastie Boys classic 'No Sleep Till Brooklyn' below: