After John McAfee was found dead in a Barcelona prison cell last week, we take a brief look at the colourful life of this complicated, maverick software entrepreneur.
The products that made John McAfee a household name were his antivirus software and anti-spam products. John McAfee formed his software company, originally called McAfee Associates, back in 1987. His idea to create anti-virus software came about while working (as a contractor) at Lockheed Martin, where he worked on a classified voice-recognition program. While on that job, McAfee saw a piece of self-replicating code that had been designed to copy itself onto any floppy disk that was inserted into affected computers. This led to McAfee finding a way to disinfect the computers, thereby creating a very early kind of what became known as anti-virus. McAfee then posted his anti-virus cure on a bulletin board and decided to set up his own company specialising in tackling what he realised would be a threat to computer systems.
John McAfee resigned from the company in 1994 and the company was sold to Intel in 2011 for £4.7bn. The McAfee company has since grown by acquisition, thereby diversifying its security offerings. There have been many reports from users that McAfee software seems hard to completely uninstall.
John McAfee rose to commercial fame as a maverick entrepreneur. Born in Gloucestershire, the son of an Englishwoman who met an American soldier while he was stationed in the UK in World War II, it is reported that his father was an abusive alcoholic who shot himself when McAfee was only 15 years old. It seems that McAfee inherited addiction and is reported to have continued taking drugs during the many programming jobs where he learned his software trade at many prestigious companies, including NASA, General Electric, and Xerox. His academic career (a PhD in mathematics) had been cut short after he was reported to have slept with an under-graduate he was supposed to be mentoring, but this would be one of many parts of his life that may have been part of his addict’s behaviour patterns. This sickness led to his wife leaving him, losing his employment at Omex in 1980 due to drug dependency, and finally making it to Alcoholics Anonymous in 1984, after which time he claimed to have never drunk or taken drugs again.
Publicity and News
John MacAfee was often in news, particularly, and unfortunately after moving to Belize in central America in 2008. McAfee moved next door to a man called Gregory Faull. Mr Faull was murdered in his home in 2012 and it emerged that Mr Faull had reported McAfee’s dogs to the local police for being dangerous and that the dogs had been poisoned. Although some saw this as a possible motive for an attack on Mr Faull, McAfee claimed to have hardly ever spoken to Mr Faull and McAfee suggested that the whole situation may have been part of an extortion plan. After disappearing shortly after the murder, McAfee was found by police in Guatemala, and after questioning was released as a free man a few days later.
Although free, he was ordered by Florida court to pay a large ‘wrongful death’ claim to Faull’s estate in 2019.
In 2015, John McAfee became a candidate with the ‘Cyber’ party, but in 2020, McAfee announced that he intended to run for President in the US either for the Libertarian Party or for his own party as a way to give a platform to the ‘crypto community’.
As reflected in the reasons for his presidential ambitions, what proved to be the last years of McAfee’s life were focused on promoting ‘alt-coins’ which were crypto-currencies that were competitors to Bitcoin.
Following accusations of failing to file tax returns for four years and potentially owing millions, accusations of concealing assets, and accusations of fraud and money laundering, John MacAfee was arrested and imprisoned in Spain in October 2020. Last week, just hours after the news that a Spanish court had agreed to extradite him to the US to face charges, the 75-year-old was found dead, possibly by suicide, in his prison cell.
Helped Build The Software Industry
Although John McAfee was clearly a complex character who made the news in later life for many of the wrong reasons, he will also be remembered for the important part he played in the initial building of the software industry as well as being one of the more controversial software entrepreneurs.