John McAfee is undoubtedly an enigma.
He built one of the biggest antivirus companies to date, and yet it’s what happened after this chapter of his life that made him such a legend.
McAfee once lived in Belize, got caught up with drugs and allegedly other illegal activities, but that’s only half the story.
Here’s a look into who the man once was, what he became, and where he is now.
Trust us, it’s a wild ride.
John McAfee was born in the UK in the mid 1940s. His parents moved to Roanoke, Virginia at a young age.
His early life was likely tough for the young man. His father, who worked as a road surveyor, was an alcoholic. When McAfee was 15, his father committed suicide, a fact McAfee says he wakes up with everyday.
McAfee went to Roanoke College where he also took up drinking. But the younger McAfee was also a shrewd entrepreneur at a young age. His first business sold magazines door to door which he says made him a small fortune.
He began working at a company that coded punch-card systems in the late '60s. This taught him the basics of early computing. Using this information, he landed a job at Missouri Pacific Railroad, where he helped the company use a newfangled IBM computer system to help calibrate train schedules.
While at Missouri Pacific Railroad he began to dabble with harder drugs. He reportedly would go to work many days while tripping on LSD. One day he was sold a bag of a psychedelic known as DMT. As the story goes, McAfee snorted a line of the drug, felt nothing, and then decided to do the whole bag. Then all hell broke loose. He freaked out, ran outside, and hid behind a trashcan.
People asked him questions, but he didn't understand what they were saying. The computer was spitting out train schedules to the moon; he couldn't make sense of it. He ended up behind a garbage can in downtown St. Louis, hearing voices and desperately hoping that nobody would look at him. He never went back to Missouri Pacific. Part of him believes he's still on that trip, that everything since has been one giant hallucination and that one day he'll snap out of it and find himself back on his couch in St. Louis, listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.
McAfee moved to Silicon Valley in the 1970s. He held numerous jobs at various tech companies (including a stint at NASA's Institute for Space Studies), all the while abusing drugs and alcohol. It wasn't until 1983 that he got sober. He was working at the company Omex, and found his daily routine to be snorting coke at his desk and drinking a bottle of scotch. He says he felt alone and scared, and finally decided to seek out help.
In the 1980s, McAfee worked at Lockheed. At the time, computers were still relatively new. In 1986 the first computer virus hit PCs. He read about these new programs that infiltrated computers and decided to start his own company fight back.
McAfee Associates took off. By the end of the 1980s, the company was making $5 million a year, and some of the biggest companies in the world were using his anti-virus platform.
McAfee quickly became even more successful, largely because of a computer virus called Michelangelo that hit the scene in 1992. McAfee called it one of the worst viruses to date, estimating it would infect as many as 5 million computers. At the time, computer anti-virus companies weren't a product most people bought. Thanks to Michelangelo, there was a growing fever to protect themselves from the virus.
Though only about tens of thousands of computers were infected, Michelangelo propelled McAfee to go public and it turned into a multimillion dollar business.
In 1994, McAfee set his sights for greener pastures and resigned from McAfee. Two years later he sold his shares, which gave him about $100 million.
Following his resignation, McAfee kept a relatively low profile. He would give young startups advice, lecture at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and also work on projects of his own. He's worked on two social network projects called PowWow and Tribal Voice, although neither were able to hit the mainstream.
In 2008, however, the economic collapse caught up to him. One report said that his fortune had shrunk from $100 million to as little as $4 million.
In the late 2000s, McAfee decided to sell his land and move to Belize. There he wanted to go into the world of antibiotics. He believed that with the help of microbiologist Allison Adonizio he could build a product that used plants to combat illnesses. The company was called Quorumex.
But things in Belize got hairy. McAfee reportedly began doing dealings with shady characters. Rumours that he was making drugs began to percolate. He also began getting increasingly paranoid.
In Belize he frequented a saloon known as Lover's Bar. He would reported go there everyday and watch the people go in and out. He slowly withdrew from everything else. He became obsessed watching the people in this poor part of town. After six months he wrote that he no longer had any connection to society.
'My fragile connection with the world of polite society has, without a doubt, been severed,' he wrote. 'My attire would rank me among the worst-dressed Tijuana panhandlers. My hygiene is no better. Yesterday, for the first time, I urinated in public, in broad daylight.'