John McAfee, the founder of McAfee Associates and pioneer in the antivirus field, was found dead today, June 23, 2021, of an apparent suicide in a Barcelona prison cell.
Born in 1945, the term “colorful” doesn’t begin to describe the life of McAfee. His entree into the nascent computer industry began with a degree in mathematics, followed by choice assignments at places like Xerox PARC, NASA, Univac, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Lockheed. He built up an impressive resume of programming skills until serendipity struck, in the form of one of the earliest computer viruses: the Brain virus. First found in the mid-1980s, Brain infected the boot sector of floppy disks and was originally intended as a somewhat heavy-handed form of copy protection by its authors. The virus rubbed McAfee the wrong way, and he threw himself into writing software to protect PCs from such infections. These were the roots of McAfee Associates, which opened its doors in 1987.
McAfee was done with his namesake company by 1994 and embarked on a series of business ventures with varying degrees of success, and a lifestyle that raised eyebrows as it departed more and more from the image of a tech entrepreneur. The Caribbean nation of Belize became a sort of base of operations for him, although he also claimed residency in places like Portland, Oregon, and Tennesee over the years. He was a person of interest in the 2012 death of his neighbor in Belize, but fled the country before he could be questioned by police there. He was captured in Guatemala when EXIF data in a picture taken by a reporter showed up online.
In custody in Guatemala, McAfee faked a series of heart attacks to avoid extradition back to Belize, and instead was deported to the United States. The state of Tennesee took an interest in him for DUI and weapons charges; eventually, the federal government added tax evasion charges — McAfee claimed that income taxes were illegal, and bragged openly about not paying federal taxes between 2014 and 2018, despite earning millions from consulting, speaking engagements, and selling his life story for a documentary. He used his resources to disappear for a while, but he was eventually arrested in Spain in October of 2020, after which US federal authorities tacked on cryptocurrency fraud charges and arranged for extradition back to the States.
McAfee, who famously Tweeted in October (apparently from his prison cell?) that he had no intention of killing himself, was found hanging in his prison cell today. Details are sketchy at this point, and there’s sure to be a lot of speculation about what happened, as well as discussion of the legacy of this larger-than-life pioneer of technology. We recently got a tip from someone who worked with McAfee, and who created a YouTube series detailing his dealings with him. We haven’t watched the whole series, so take it for what it’s worth, but it sure appears to be a first-hand account of one of the many people who shared John McAfee’s wild ride through life.
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