John McAfee had a colour life in which he pioneered antivirus software that made him millions and claimed to have fathered 47 children – but he spent his final years on the run.
McAfee, 75, took his own life in his prison cell in Barcelona on Wednesday after the Spanish high court authorised his extradition to the United States to face tax evasion charges, his lawyer told the Reuters news agency.
The British-born anti-virus software creator enjoyed such a high profile he claimed he spent the rest of his life being constantly targeted by hackers who saw besting him as “a badge of honour.”
One of the earliest stars of the tech entrepreneur era, he was known for his eccentric behaviour and trouble with the law.
He spent the latter years of his life fleeing allegations of tax evasion and cryptocurrency charges, and was wanted for questioning over a murder and accused of rape – all of which he denied.
He met his wife, 30 years his junior, Janice McAfee, when she solicited him as a sex worker while he was on the run, he said.
McAfee had spent the years after selling his stake in his firm to Intel for $7.6billion (£4.7bn) mocking the brand that eventually stopped bearing his name with wild stunts.
In 2013, McAfee uploaded a parody video entitled How to Uninstall McAfee Antivirus onto YouTube, in which he criticised the software while snorting white powder surrounded by scantily clad women.
McAfee was born on a US military base at the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, to an American father stationed there and a British mother, but was raised in the US state of Virginia.
When he was 15, his father, an abusive alcoholic, killed himself.
According to the BBC, he said of his identity: “I feel as much British as I do American. There’s not much difference between our countries.”
McAfee turned to drink and drugs after his father’s death but maintained an academic career in mathematics that ended when his affair with a student was uncovered, according to the broadcaster.
The pair later married and he went on to work for a string of science and tech giants including NASA and Xerox, despite continuing to battle addictions.
After his first wife left him, McAfee said he kicked his drinks and drugs habit.
He was working for defence contractor Lockheed Martin when he came across his first computer virus – a piece of code on a floppy disk – and recalled being instantly fascinated.
He discovered a talent for disinfecting computers and set up McAfee Associates in 1983.
McAfee, who claimed in 2018 that he had fathered at least 47 children, lived in Belize for several years.
He fled after police sought him for questioning in the 2012 murder of a neighbour.
A 2016 Showtime documentary “Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee” also aired allegations that McAfee had raped his former business partner and accusations he was involved in a second murder in Belize.
McAfee struck an odd figure for a leading figure in the antivirus field, by claiming he never used his own firm’s products, opting to use no software protection at all.
Instead, he said he constantly changed his IP address, never attached his name to any of his devices – which he would have other people purchase for him – refused to use porn websites and never opened an email link without calling the sender first.
In latter years, McAfee continued to make headlines with his tech stunts – volunteering to decrypt a phone used by the San Bernadino shooters when Apple declined the FBI’s request.
McAfee once claimed he had found a flaw in Androids allowing WhatsApp messages to be read, but courted controversy after it emerged he had sent reporters malware-infected phones so he could pull off the hack.
He offered to help Cuba avoid a US trade embargo using cryptocurrency.
McAfee said in 2019 that he had not paid US income taxes for eight years for ideological reasons.
That year, he left the US to avoid trial, largely living on a megayacht with his wife, four large dogs, two security guards and seven staff.
McAfee sought to run for US president for the Libertarian Party last year.
He was indicted in Tennessee on tax evasion charges and was also charged in a cryptocurrency fraud case in New York.
AFP via Getty Images)
Jailed in Barcelona for about nine months, McAfee still had opportunities to appeal his conviction but could not stand more time in prison, his lawyer Javier Villalba said after reports of his death emerged on Wednesday.
“This is the result of a cruel system that had no reason to keep this man in jail for so long,” he added.
During an extradition hearing last month, McAfee claimed the accusations against him were politically motivated.
He said that given his age, he would spend the rest of his life in jail if he were to be convicted in the US.
“I am hoping that the Spanish court will see the injustice of this,” he said, adding “the United States wants to use me as an example”.
Spanish prosecutors had rubbished the political claims and described McAfee as a tax dodger.
His wife this week issued a heartfelt Father’s Day tribute as he remained in prison.
Posting the message on Twitter , Janice McAfee wrote: “Though you are spending the day in prison know that you are loved and appreciated.”
In the note written before his death, she claimed her father had fallen victim to corrupt authorities and had no chance of a fair trial.
She claimed US authorities were “determined to let him die in prison,” as she insisted her husband was an honest person.
The message continued: “These eight months John has spent in prison have been especially hard on his overall health both mentally and physically as well as financially, but he is undeterred from continuing to speak truth to power.”
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