Updated: June 26, 2021 8:36:11 am
John McAfee was not pleased when a Hollywood project about his life was announced with Michael Keaton in the title role. His own choice, he said in an interview some years ago, was Bryan Cranston, who played chemistry teacher-turned-drug lord Walter White on the acclaimed TV show Breaking Bad. It’s clear why the former software mogul thought Cranston would do justice to the role — like White, McAfee’s is a story of astonishing twists and turns. Except that Walter White was a fictional creation, while McAfee, who died at 75 this week, only seemed like he belonged in fiction.
Born in the UK and brought up in the USA, McAfee survived an abusive childhood and the suicide of his father to pursue a promising academic career, which was cut short when his PhD in mathematics was terminated due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Drug addiction and alcoholism followed, even as McAfee turned his considerable skills to programming. In 1987, he created his eponymous antivirus software and helped launch the multibillion dollar antivirus industry.
After selling his firm in 1994 and losing much of his fortune in 2008’s financial crash, McAfee moved to Belize. Here, his property was raided on suspicion of manufacturing drugs and he gained notoriety for his alleged relationships with underage girls. He fled on becoming a “person of interest” in a neighbour’s murder in 2012 and returned to the US in 2015, where he began promoting cryptocurrencies and tried to run for president in 2016. By 2019, McAfee was once again on the lam, pursued by US authorities for tax evasion. He was eventually caught in Spain in 2020 and was set to be extradited to the US, when he died in a Barcelona prison. If the last decades of McAfee’s life showed how far the mighty can fall, its abrupt end only leaves troubling questions about the nature of their legacies.
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