John Berry, one of the founding members and the original guitarist of the seminal rap-rock group the Beastie Boys, died Thursday morning at a hospice in Danvers, Massachusetts, at age 52. Berry’s father, John Berry III, confirmed the news to Rolling Stone and said his son had suffered from frontal lobe dementia.
Berry was a friend and classmate of Mike Diamond, aka Mike D, and he is credited with conceiving the Beastie Boys name when the two were teenagers in New York. He played guitar in what was then a fledgling punk band featuring Diamond on vocals, Adam “MCA” Yauch on bass, and Kate Schellenbach (later of the alt-rock group Luscious Jackson) on drums.
Berry’s loft on the Upper West Side hosted the first Beastie Boys shows, and he played on the band’s first EP, Polly Wog Stew, recorded in late 1982. He departed the group shortly after, followed by Schellenbach, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz replaced them. Berry would go on to play in such bands as Thwig, Big Fat Love, and Bourbon Deluxe.
Luscious Jackson memorialized Berry with a statement that reads, “We are heartbroken hearing the news of the passing of John Berry, the original guitarist and founder of the Beastie Boys. He was a good friend and rabble rouser, and if it wasn’t for him, there’d be no Beasties, no Luscious Jackson, no Grand Royal and god knows what else. John brought us all together in his crazy wooden house on the UWS… Rest In [Peace] friend.”