John McAfee, the entrepreneur who created the antivirus software that shares his name, died last week of an apparent suicide in his jail cell in Spain. McAfee’s death came after Spanish courts had just approved his extradition back to the U.S., where he was facing trial for tax evasion.
But for McAfee — who built a multi-million dollar company, took over a town in Belize and ran for President in 2016 — this was a typical end to an extraordinary life.
The 2016 documentary “Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee” uncovers unique details about McAfee’s life and paints a picture of a man who couldn’t help but reject conformity with every fiber of his being.
McAfee was undeniably a genius. After developing some of the first-ever antivirus software in the 1980s, he used a series of TV interviews to stoke fear about the then-new threat of computer viruses, causing his company’s value to soar.
But after selling his stake in the company for $100 million in 1994, McAfee had a series of unsuccessful business ventures, keeping him largely out of the public eye.
After losing the bulk of his fortune in the 2008 financial crisis, McAfee moved to the town of Carmelita in the Central American nation of Belize. There, McAfee lived a bizarre lifestyle, having several “girlfriends” live at his compound, mainly to perform one particularly strange sexual act involving a hammock. (Look it up.)
McAfee’s luxury compound in poverty-stricken Belize attracted attention, and after a series of kidnapping attempts, the paranoid multimillionaire started taking steps to protect himself. Initially, by making sizable donations to local police and then amassing a large security detail of local gang members, McAfee gradually began to take over the entire town.
In 2012, McAfee had a dispute with his neighbor Gregg Faull about vicious dogs McAfee had on the property. After Faull poisoned the dogs, he was found tortured and shot in the head days later.
McAfee, claiming he had been framed by the Belizean government (who had once `raided his property with a gang suppression unit), went on the run to Guatemala. He attempted to claim asylum there but was arrested for illegal entry days later when an interview with Vice News accidentally exposed his location.
McAfee narrowly escaped deportation to Belize and was instead sent back to America. He was never charged for Faull’s death, as Belize does not have a DNA lab, so officials could not tie anyone to the murder.
“I’ve got to keep the public interested in me. I can do it by being a bad guy, good guy, a fool or all three at once. Whatever it takes.” –John McAfee
As soon as McAfee moved back to the states, he began an extensive media campaign to reinvent his image. His media savvy proved useful, and the disgraced cybersecurity expert was able to shed the image of “wanted murderer fleeing through the jungle,” and he began to regain credibility.
He once again became an authority on cybersecurity, and he used public concern about online privacy as a platform to vie for the Libertarian nomination for the 2016 Presidential election.
He lost — narrowly — to Gary Johnson, but his takes on cybersecurity in televised debates only helped establish him as an expert in the field. When he was named CEO of MGT capital investments in 2016, the stock rose 700%.
Up until recently, McAfee was living in Spain. And last week, a Spanish court approved the decision to extradite him back to the U.S., where he was wanted for tax evasion. But last Wednesday, the 75-year-old was found dead in his cell in Barcelona, where he is believed to have hung himself.
But characteristically, McAfee offered one final twist to his blockbuster life when — before his death — he claimed that if it were ever reported he had killed himself, it would be untrue; he’d actually been murdered. (He even had a tattoo on his arm that read “whacked” to emphasize this.) His wife has also claimed that he was not suicidal and that his death was “politically motivated.”
Regardless if there really was a conspiracy to fake McAfee’s suicide — or if this was just the final trick of a narcissist who reveled in the spectacle of his own dramatic existence — few can ever claim they lived a life quite like John McAfee.