Adam Yauch (right) with Michelle Williams & Kelly Reichardt last year. Photo by Nicholas Hunt © Patrick McMullan

New Yorker Adam Yauch, a man with a passion for music, movies and people, passed away yesterday at the young age of 47. Best known for his contributions to music with his band The Beastie Boys, Yauch was an increasingly influential film distributor. His Oscilloscope Laboratories company, launched in 2008, brought indie films including Wendy and Lucy, The Messenger, If A Tree Falls, and more to large and small screens.

Sincere and sensitive, Adam Yauch was a quietly influential figure in the arts. He often seemed to speak with a soft voice off-stage but his impact was considerable.

Writing about his passing for the New York Times last night, Manohla Dargis called Yauch (pronounced yowk), “One of the best things to happen to American independent cinema in years.”

Adam Yauch battled cancer for three years before becoming increasing ill in recent weeks. His band has sold some 40 million records since gaining national attention in the mid-80s. Last month, the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame but Yauch was unable to attend due to his illness.

Equally comfortable on stage and behind the camera, Yauch directed a number of music videos for the Beastie Boys, his longtime collaboration with Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz. The trio formed a band when Yauch was just 17 years old. Last year he directed Fight For Your Right Revisited, an extended video starring Elijah Wood, Danny McBride and Seth Rogen. He also directed the band's 2006 concert doc, Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! which included footage shot by 50 fans in the audience at a 2004 Beasties concert. 

Always delivering funny canned quotes for company press releases, back in mid-2009, Yauch quipped — in a statement — that his salivery gland cancer diagnosis was “a pain in the neck.” He said that being laid up and not allowed to tour with the Beastie Boys that summer would, “Be a good opportunity to dig through that pile of screeners. Maybe I'll find a few gems.”

His Oscilloscope Labs, which he ran with David Fenkel, was modeled after the indie record labels Adam Yauch hung around in the 80's. The first film picked for a release was the basketball doc Gunnin' For That #1 Spot.

Yauch's personal taste in movies drove Oscilloscope's decisions, he acquired Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin, Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights, So Yong Kim's Treeless Mountain, Bradley Rust Gray's The Exploding Girl, Evan Glodell's Bellflower and Nicholas Ray's final film, We Can't Go Home Again.

Expressing their deep sadness, in a statement yesterday, the staff at Yauch's film company said, “Adam's legacy will remain a driving force at Oscilloscope – his indomitable spirit and his great passion for film, people, and hard work – always with a sense of humor and a lot of heart.”

Eugene Hernandez is the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (@filmlincand a founder of indieWIRE. Follow him on Twitter at @eug.

More on Adam Yauch:
Jon Pareles in the New York Times.
Sasha Frere-Jones in the New Yorker.