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Episode
182

The Crazy Life of John McAfee

Aug 6, 2021
Weird World
-
23
minutes
The Internet
1990s
Drugs
True crime
Central America
Cryptocurrency
Alcohol
Conspiracy theories

He was an internet security pioneer, and his McAfee Antivirus software was used on hundreds of millions of computers all around the world.

But privately, he lived a crazy life that ended in tragedy.

In this episode, we'll learn all about the wild, wild, life of this cybersecurity legend.

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Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the crazy life of John McAfee.

[00:00:28] Now, you might not have heard of John McAfee until recently, or at all. But if you have ever used a Windows computer, you have probably used a programme he created.

[00:00:40] McAfee Antivirus Software, the programme that promises to protect your computer against all sorts of harmful viruses and threats, and keep you safe.

[00:00:51] And if you knew nothing about the life of the man behind the software, you might think that he could have been a quiet computer programmer working away in an office, living an unremarkable life.

[00:01:05] Nothing could be farther from the truth.

[00:01:08] Our story will involve computer viruses, guns, the FBI, drugs, Central American gangsters, murder, cryptocurrency, prostitution, tax evasion, sex, and suicide.

[00:01:23] By the end of today’s episode I think you’ll agree that there are many words one could use to describe the life of John McAfee, but boring and uneventful are not among them.

[00:01:35] Before we get right into our story, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:49] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 180 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:02:10] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:02:22] So, if that's of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:32] Ok then, the crazy life of John McAfee.

[00:02:36] It seems strange to start a story at its end, but for John McAfee, his story ended a month and a half ago, on the 23rd June of 2021.

[00:02:48] He was being held in a Spanish jail cell, awaiting extradition to the United States, he was about to be sent back to America to face charges of tax evasion, of not paying taxes.

[00:03:02] At around 6pm, the guards went to his prison cell, and found him dead, it appeared that he had hung himself a few months before he was going to celebrate his 76th birthday.

[00:03:16] To try to understand how and why McAfee was in this situation, we need to go all the way back to the start of his life.

[00:03:24] He was born in England in 1945, a month after the Japanese had surrendered and World War II was officially over. 

[00:03:33] His father was an American airman, who had been stationed in England. His mother was English.

[00:03:40] The family moved back to America, and McAfee grew up in Virginia, on the Eastern side of the United States. 

[00:03:48] His childhood was, he reported, an unhappy one, as his father was a terrible alcoholic who beat him and his mother. 

[00:03:58] Tragically, his father shot himself when the young McAfee was only 15 years old.

[00:04:04] Understandably, this tragic event left a permanent scar on McAfee, and he said later in an interview "Every relationship I have, he's by my side; every mistrust, he is the negotiator of that mistrust."

[00:04:21] McAfee was a talented mathematician, and started working on a PhD. He managed to progress academically despite starting to drink heavily and experiment with drugs. 

[00:04:33] But it was to be another vice that was to curtail, to stop short, his academic career.

[00:04:41] It was discovered that he had been sleeping with an undergraduate student that he was supposed to be mentoring, that he was supposed to be looking after, and he was kicked out of his PhD programme. 

[00:04:55] This undergraduate student was to become the first of his three wives, but you will see that sexual appetite will be a theme throughout the life of this eccentric man.

[00:05:07] After being kicked out of his PhD programme, he found work doing various different computer programming jobs, but the drink and the drugs didn’t stop. 

[00:05:17] In fact, they only got worse, and by the early 80s he was reportedly drinking a bottle of whisky a day and taking cocaine at his desk.

[00:05:28] This was all while having a series of pretty high-powered technology jobs. 

[00:05:35] McAfee would later report that this wasn't abnormal in the world he was living in. People who were working in technology were also keen on personal experimentation, and altering your senses was one way of doing this.

[00:05:50] Nevertheless, by 1984 McAfee realised that he had to stop, and that was reportedly the last time he ever used drink or drugs.

[00:06:02] His hellraiser lifestyle, his crazy lifestyle, had cost him dearly in terms of personal relationships, and he was becoming increasingly paranoid.

[00:06:14] But this paranoia was to turn into an incredibly useful, and profitable, tool for McAfee.

[00:06:22] The 1980s was a time when personal computers started entering American homes for the first time. 

[00:06:29] They had previously been magical, mysterious objects used by scientists and big organisations. 

[00:06:36] Now, you could have one in your home.

[00:06:39] With the arrival of the first personal computers came the first computer virus, which was programmed by a pair of brothers in Pakistan. 

[00:06:50] These brothers didn’t really know what impact the virus might have, and they didn’t try to hide the fact that they were behind it - indeed, they left their address and their phone number on the message that infected computers received!

[00:07:05] McAfee, being a skillful programmer, created software that could stop this virus. 

[00:07:12] His idea was that he could give the software away for free, so that people could protect their own computers against the virus. 

[00:07:20] McAfee thought companies would also want it to protect their computers, and they would be prepared to pay for it, they just needed to know that they needed it.

[00:07:32] After having created this software, McAfee needed to make people believe that they weren’t safe without it. 

[00:07:39] If you didn’t know what a computer virus was, you first needed to be educated about them before you would feel the need to install McAfee’s software.

[00:07:49] McAfee used all sorts of stunts, all sorts of tricks, to warn people of this huge threat from computer viruses, from going around the country in a camper truck loaded with computers that he called an “antivirus paramedic unit” to frequent TV appearances where he would describe this huge threat that was just waiting to invade your computer.

[00:08:16] McAfee’s marketing efforts worked.

[00:08:19] Big companies immediately bought it, and it was quickly seen as a must-have to protect computers against viruses.

[00:08:28] By 1990 McAfee was making $5 million a year, and by 1993 he controlled 67% of the desktop antivirus market.

[00:08:40] If you have ever bought McAfee Antivirus software, or your computer had it pre-loaded onto it, this is where the original version came from.

[00:08:50] And this, evidently, made John McAfee a very rich man. 

[00:08:55] He sold his shares in the company in 1993, and walked away with around $80 million.

[00:09:05] But while others in a similar situation might have simply retired and enjoyed their millions quietly, John McAfee’s life was about to get a lot crazier.

[00:09:17] His fame as the world’s most famous cyber security expert had made him a target for hackers, and it would be a great badge of honour for a hacker to be able to hack John McAfee. 

[00:09:31] This made him probably even more paranoid, and for the rest of his life he would be constantly watching his back, swapping SIM cards, changing IP addresses, using fake names to buy computers and phones, and forever looking over his shoulder.

[00:09:50] He continued to invest in security-related companies and real estate, but when the 2007 financial crisis came he reported that he lost almost all of his money, going from a fortune of around $100 million to just $4 million. 

[00:10:09] And it was after the financial crisis that things started to reach new levels of crazy.

[00:10:17] He moved to Belize, the tiny Central American country between Mexico and Guatemala, in 2008. He bought up a large plot of land, but claimed that he was being extorted by the Belizean government and a local drug cartel.

[00:10:34] He started to build up a mini army, and hired dozens of private security guards to protect him. They would all be heavily armed, and there are photos of McAfee from his early years in Belize surrounded by people with machine guns.

[00:10:51] By this time he had two failed marriages behind him, and in Belize he seemed to be surrounded by a large number, one could even say a “bevvy”, of young women.

[00:11:05] He continued to build new houses on his land, and before long his compound was a vast collection of different properties, many of them just lying empty.

[00:11:16] Partly for company, and partly to guard the property, McAfee kept 11 dogs, who were semi-wild and would reportedly make a lot of noise.

[00:11:28] This evidently didn’t go down very well with his neighbours, and it annoyed one neighbour in particular: a man named George Faull, another American who spent part of the year living in Belize.

[00:11:42] The story goes that Faull had complained to McAfee multiple times, but nothing happened.

[00:11:48] One day, four of McAfee’s dogs were found dead, poisoned.

[00:11:54] A week later, George Faull, the American neighbour, was found in a pool of blood with a hole through his head, as if he had been executed.

[00:12:05] The Belize police swooped in to question McAfee, who had made no secret of the fact that he hated his American neighbour.

[00:12:14] But before they could get to him, McAfee fled, he escaped from the police, and managed to get into Guatemala, to the north. 

[00:12:23] According to McAfee, he had done nothing wrong, but believed that the Belizean government was deeply corrupt and he didn’t trust his chances with them.

[00:12:35] It should be said that McAfee denies having had anything to do with the murder of George Faull, and nobody has actually been charged for it.

[00:12:45] After having made it to Guatemala, McAfee was held by the police on charges of having entered the country illegally, and he was about to be sent back to Belize.

[00:12:57] While being held in Guatemala, it was reported that he had two small heart attacks in prison, and so his deportation was delayed. 

[00:13:07] As a result, there was time for his lawyers to contest the charges, and he was sent back to the United States, not back to Belize.

[00:13:17] McAfee would later state that he actually faked these heart attacks. 

[00:13:22] Whether he did or not we will never know, but they certainly meant that the next chapter of his life would start as a free man back in the United States, not in a Belizean jail cell.

[00:13:36] Back in the United States, he became even more paranoid

[00:13:41] He believed that he was being chased by Belizean drug gangs with links to the government, and he would travel around the country staying only in motels under anonymous names.

[00:13:53] He remarried in 2013, to a lady called Janice Dyson. They had met on his first night back in the United States in Florida. He was sitting in a bar, she was working as a prostitute. She solicited him, and they quickly fell in love, and she remained by his side for the rest of his life.

[00:14:16] While travelling around the United States, he would carry around lots of different mobile phones, and do things like jump out of his car and attach a mobile phone to another, random car, supposedly to confuse the people who were following him.

[00:14:33] During this time he also went on a personal war against McAfee Antivirus Software, even releasing a parody video called “How to uninstall McAfee Antivirus”. 

[00:14:46] He had sold all of his shares almost 20 years beforehand, and had no links to the company whatsoever.

[00:14:54] He also became even more of a campaigner for internet security, and for privacy. 

[00:15:01] There are countless videos of him talking about the risks posed by things like mobile phones, and talking about the measures that he takes to protect his own security.

[00:15:13] In 2016, he had his first attempt at running for US president. You might have thought that for a man trying to hide, running for President of the United States wasn’t a great idea, but McAfee went ahead anyway.

[00:15:30] He put himself forward as a candidate for the Libertarian party, advocating to end the war on drugs and increase cybersecurity against Russia and China. He didn’t win the nomination, but it wouldn’t be his only bid for President. He tried again in 2020, with a similar agenda, but again, didn’t get very far.

[00:15:55] Not content with a peaceful life with his new wife, he threw himself into new technological developments, and started and invested in several new cybersecurity companies. 

[00:16:07] He also became a vocal proponent of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and it was actually this element of his life that was to lead him to wind up in a Spanish jail cell.

[00:16:21] McAfee, as you have probably gathered by now, was a Libertarian. He was anti-government, anti controls on personal liberty, and an advocate of personal choice. 

[00:16:33] Many people with these kinds of beliefs naturally gravitated towards cryptocurrency, given its decentralised nature.

[00:16:43] McAfee also believed that tax was theft, and he hadn’t filed his US taxes since 2010. 

[00:16:52] As you may know, the US is one of the few countries in the world where citizens have to pay taxes in the US no matter where they live. 

[00:17:02] So, McAfee was soon a target for the IRS, the Inland Revenue Service, the government organisation responsible for collecting taxes in the US, as well as for the FBI.

[00:17:16] In January of 2019 McAfee announced that he was officially being chased by the IRS, and as a consequence, he was on the run from the US government. 

[00:17:27] He believed that the US government wanted to make an example out of him, and if he was tried in a US court then he would spend the rest of his life behind bars, in prison.

[00:17:41] In October of 2020, while in Spain, McAfee was arrested by the Spanish police. He was being sought by the IRS on charges of tax evasion, after he had reportedly made millions by promoting cryptocurrencies between 2014 and 2018.

[00:18:00] From October of 2020 to June of 2021, McAfee and his legal team fought the extradition order, they fought to avoid him being sent back to the US.

[00:18:12] While he was in prison, McAfee continued to communicate with the outside world, sending tweets such as:

[00:18:20] I am content in here. I have friends.

[00:18:22] The food is good. All is well. 

[00:18:25] Know that if I hang myself, a la Epstein, it will be no fault of mine.

[00:18:32] That was in October of 2020.

[00:18:35] Then, in June of 2021, the extradition order was approved.

[00:18:41] McAfee was scheduled to be sent back to the US, and hours later he was found dead, apparently by suicide.

[00:18:49] Now, since his death there have been dozens of conspiracy theories about this. From theories that he isn’t actually dead, and that he faked his own death, through to theories that he was murdered, that Latin American gangsters finally managed to get to him.

[00:19:07] The official verdict was suicide, although this is still disputed by his wife, who says that she spoke to him days before and he seemed very happy, not the sort of man who would have taken his own life.

[00:19:22] This isn’t the time or place for a lot of speculation, but let’s just look at both sides for a minute.

[00:19:30] He was forever tricking people, playing tricks on the public, and making people believe things that weren’t true. He was also someone who had spent the majority of his adult life fighting authority, in different forms, and not the sort of person who seemed to give up lightly. 

[00:19:49] Plus, according to his wife and lawyer, he was not suicidal at all.

[00:19:53] So, on that basis, the fact that he killed himself does seem a little out of character.

[00:20:00] But, on the other hand, he was 75 years old, he had lived an incredibly stressful life of adventure and tragedy. He had just found out that he was about to be sent back to a place where he believed he would spend the rest of his life in prison. 

[00:20:19] Is it so unbelievable that he might have decided to end it all? He would no doubt have known that his fans wouldn’t believe that he killed himself, and was this last act his way of leaving one last conspiracy for people to believe?

[00:20:36] In all probability, we will never know for sure, but perhaps that is exactly what John McAfee would have wanted.

[00:20:46] OK then, that is it for today's episode on the eccentric life of John McAfee. 

[00:20:53] He was a security pioneer, a brilliant computer scientist, and a wildly successful businessman. 

[00:20:59] But, he was also deeply troubled and self-destructive

[00:21:03] In his own words, he was “not normal”.

[00:21:07] And whether you think that John McAfee was a mad, dangerous, criminal, or whether he was in fact someone who died a martyr in the fight against a corrupt system, it is hard to deny that he lived a weird but fascinating life.

[00:21:22] And if you have McAfee Anti Virus software on your computer then the next time you get one of those annoying notifications asking you to scan your computer, you will know a little bit more about the man who gave his name to that programme.

[00:21:38] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:21:42] Did you know anything about the life of John McAfee before listening to this? Are you more on the side of him being a dangerous, unstable man, or an unfortunate victim?

[00:21:53] I would love to know.

[00:21:54] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:05] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:22:19] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:22:33] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:22:38] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:43] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the crazy life of John McAfee.

[00:00:28] Now, you might not have heard of John McAfee until recently, or at all. But if you have ever used a Windows computer, you have probably used a programme he created.

[00:00:40] McAfee Antivirus Software, the programme that promises to protect your computer against all sorts of harmful viruses and threats, and keep you safe.

[00:00:51] And if you knew nothing about the life of the man behind the software, you might think that he could have been a quiet computer programmer working away in an office, living an unremarkable life.

[00:01:05] Nothing could be farther from the truth.

[00:01:08] Our story will involve computer viruses, guns, the FBI, drugs, Central American gangsters, murder, cryptocurrency, prostitution, tax evasion, sex, and suicide.

[00:01:23] By the end of today’s episode I think you’ll agree that there are many words one could use to describe the life of John McAfee, but boring and uneventful are not among them.

[00:01:35] Before we get right into our story, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:49] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 180 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:02:10] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:02:22] So, if that's of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:32] Ok then, the crazy life of John McAfee.

[00:02:36] It seems strange to start a story at its end, but for John McAfee, his story ended a month and a half ago, on the 23rd June of 2021.

[00:02:48] He was being held in a Spanish jail cell, awaiting extradition to the United States, he was about to be sent back to America to face charges of tax evasion, of not paying taxes.

[00:03:02] At around 6pm, the guards went to his prison cell, and found him dead, it appeared that he had hung himself a few months before he was going to celebrate his 76th birthday.

[00:03:16] To try to understand how and why McAfee was in this situation, we need to go all the way back to the start of his life.

[00:03:24] He was born in England in 1945, a month after the Japanese had surrendered and World War II was officially over. 

[00:03:33] His father was an American airman, who had been stationed in England. His mother was English.

[00:03:40] The family moved back to America, and McAfee grew up in Virginia, on the Eastern side of the United States. 

[00:03:48] His childhood was, he reported, an unhappy one, as his father was a terrible alcoholic who beat him and his mother. 

[00:03:58] Tragically, his father shot himself when the young McAfee was only 15 years old.

[00:04:04] Understandably, this tragic event left a permanent scar on McAfee, and he said later in an interview "Every relationship I have, he's by my side; every mistrust, he is the negotiator of that mistrust."

[00:04:21] McAfee was a talented mathematician, and started working on a PhD. He managed to progress academically despite starting to drink heavily and experiment with drugs. 

[00:04:33] But it was to be another vice that was to curtail, to stop short, his academic career.

[00:04:41] It was discovered that he had been sleeping with an undergraduate student that he was supposed to be mentoring, that he was supposed to be looking after, and he was kicked out of his PhD programme. 

[00:04:55] This undergraduate student was to become the first of his three wives, but you will see that sexual appetite will be a theme throughout the life of this eccentric man.

[00:05:07] After being kicked out of his PhD programme, he found work doing various different computer programming jobs, but the drink and the drugs didn’t stop. 

[00:05:17] In fact, they only got worse, and by the early 80s he was reportedly drinking a bottle of whisky a day and taking cocaine at his desk.

[00:05:28] This was all while having a series of pretty high-powered technology jobs. 

[00:05:35] McAfee would later report that this wasn't abnormal in the world he was living in. People who were working in technology were also keen on personal experimentation, and altering your senses was one way of doing this.

[00:05:50] Nevertheless, by 1984 McAfee realised that he had to stop, and that was reportedly the last time he ever used drink or drugs.

[00:06:02] His hellraiser lifestyle, his crazy lifestyle, had cost him dearly in terms of personal relationships, and he was becoming increasingly paranoid.

[00:06:14] But this paranoia was to turn into an incredibly useful, and profitable, tool for McAfee.

[00:06:22] The 1980s was a time when personal computers started entering American homes for the first time. 

[00:06:29] They had previously been magical, mysterious objects used by scientists and big organisations. 

[00:06:36] Now, you could have one in your home.

[00:06:39] With the arrival of the first personal computers came the first computer virus, which was programmed by a pair of brothers in Pakistan. 

[00:06:50] These brothers didn’t really know what impact the virus might have, and they didn’t try to hide the fact that they were behind it - indeed, they left their address and their phone number on the message that infected computers received!

[00:07:05] McAfee, being a skillful programmer, created software that could stop this virus. 

[00:07:12] His idea was that he could give the software away for free, so that people could protect their own computers against the virus. 

[00:07:20] McAfee thought companies would also want it to protect their computers, and they would be prepared to pay for it, they just needed to know that they needed it.

[00:07:32] After having created this software, McAfee needed to make people believe that they weren’t safe without it. 

[00:07:39] If you didn’t know what a computer virus was, you first needed to be educated about them before you would feel the need to install McAfee’s software.

[00:07:49] McAfee used all sorts of stunts, all sorts of tricks, to warn people of this huge threat from computer viruses, from going around the country in a camper truck loaded with computers that he called an “antivirus paramedic unit” to frequent TV appearances where he would describe this huge threat that was just waiting to invade your computer.

[00:08:16] McAfee’s marketing efforts worked.

[00:08:19] Big companies immediately bought it, and it was quickly seen as a must-have to protect computers against viruses.

[00:08:28] By 1990 McAfee was making $5 million a year, and by 1993 he controlled 67% of the desktop antivirus market.

[00:08:40] If you have ever bought McAfee Antivirus software, or your computer had it pre-loaded onto it, this is where the original version came from.

[00:08:50] And this, evidently, made John McAfee a very rich man. 

[00:08:55] He sold his shares in the company in 1993, and walked away with around $80 million.

[00:09:05] But while others in a similar situation might have simply retired and enjoyed their millions quietly, John McAfee’s life was about to get a lot crazier.

[00:09:17] His fame as the world’s most famous cyber security expert had made him a target for hackers, and it would be a great badge of honour for a hacker to be able to hack John McAfee. 

[00:09:31] This made him probably even more paranoid, and for the rest of his life he would be constantly watching his back, swapping SIM cards, changing IP addresses, using fake names to buy computers and phones, and forever looking over his shoulder.

[00:09:50] He continued to invest in security-related companies and real estate, but when the 2007 financial crisis came he reported that he lost almost all of his money, going from a fortune of around $100 million to just $4 million. 

[00:10:09] And it was after the financial crisis that things started to reach new levels of crazy.

[00:10:17] He moved to Belize, the tiny Central American country between Mexico and Guatemala, in 2008. He bought up a large plot of land, but claimed that he was being extorted by the Belizean government and a local drug cartel.

[00:10:34] He started to build up a mini army, and hired dozens of private security guards to protect him. They would all be heavily armed, and there are photos of McAfee from his early years in Belize surrounded by people with machine guns.

[00:10:51] By this time he had two failed marriages behind him, and in Belize he seemed to be surrounded by a large number, one could even say a “bevvy”, of young women.

[00:11:05] He continued to build new houses on his land, and before long his compound was a vast collection of different properties, many of them just lying empty.

[00:11:16] Partly for company, and partly to guard the property, McAfee kept 11 dogs, who were semi-wild and would reportedly make a lot of noise.

[00:11:28] This evidently didn’t go down very well with his neighbours, and it annoyed one neighbour in particular: a man named George Faull, another American who spent part of the year living in Belize.

[00:11:42] The story goes that Faull had complained to McAfee multiple times, but nothing happened.

[00:11:48] One day, four of McAfee’s dogs were found dead, poisoned.

[00:11:54] A week later, George Faull, the American neighbour, was found in a pool of blood with a hole through his head, as if he had been executed.

[00:12:05] The Belize police swooped in to question McAfee, who had made no secret of the fact that he hated his American neighbour.

[00:12:14] But before they could get to him, McAfee fled, he escaped from the police, and managed to get into Guatemala, to the north. 

[00:12:23] According to McAfee, he had done nothing wrong, but believed that the Belizean government was deeply corrupt and he didn’t trust his chances with them.

[00:12:35] It should be said that McAfee denies having had anything to do with the murder of George Faull, and nobody has actually been charged for it.

[00:12:45] After having made it to Guatemala, McAfee was held by the police on charges of having entered the country illegally, and he was about to be sent back to Belize.

[00:12:57] While being held in Guatemala, it was reported that he had two small heart attacks in prison, and so his deportation was delayed. 

[00:13:07] As a result, there was time for his lawyers to contest the charges, and he was sent back to the United States, not back to Belize.

[00:13:17] McAfee would later state that he actually faked these heart attacks. 

[00:13:22] Whether he did or not we will never know, but they certainly meant that the next chapter of his life would start as a free man back in the United States, not in a Belizean jail cell.

[00:13:36] Back in the United States, he became even more paranoid

[00:13:41] He believed that he was being chased by Belizean drug gangs with links to the government, and he would travel around the country staying only in motels under anonymous names.

[00:13:53] He remarried in 2013, to a lady called Janice Dyson. They had met on his first night back in the United States in Florida. He was sitting in a bar, she was working as a prostitute. She solicited him, and they quickly fell in love, and she remained by his side for the rest of his life.

[00:14:16] While travelling around the United States, he would carry around lots of different mobile phones, and do things like jump out of his car and attach a mobile phone to another, random car, supposedly to confuse the people who were following him.

[00:14:33] During this time he also went on a personal war against McAfee Antivirus Software, even releasing a parody video called “How to uninstall McAfee Antivirus”. 

[00:14:46] He had sold all of his shares almost 20 years beforehand, and had no links to the company whatsoever.

[00:14:54] He also became even more of a campaigner for internet security, and for privacy. 

[00:15:01] There are countless videos of him talking about the risks posed by things like mobile phones, and talking about the measures that he takes to protect his own security.

[00:15:13] In 2016, he had his first attempt at running for US president. You might have thought that for a man trying to hide, running for President of the United States wasn’t a great idea, but McAfee went ahead anyway.

[00:15:30] He put himself forward as a candidate for the Libertarian party, advocating to end the war on drugs and increase cybersecurity against Russia and China. He didn’t win the nomination, but it wouldn’t be his only bid for President. He tried again in 2020, with a similar agenda, but again, didn’t get very far.

[00:15:55] Not content with a peaceful life with his new wife, he threw himself into new technological developments, and started and invested in several new cybersecurity companies. 

[00:16:07] He also became a vocal proponent of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and it was actually this element of his life that was to lead him to wind up in a Spanish jail cell.

[00:16:21] McAfee, as you have probably gathered by now, was a Libertarian. He was anti-government, anti controls on personal liberty, and an advocate of personal choice. 

[00:16:33] Many people with these kinds of beliefs naturally gravitated towards cryptocurrency, given its decentralised nature.

[00:16:43] McAfee also believed that tax was theft, and he hadn’t filed his US taxes since 2010. 

[00:16:52] As you may know, the US is one of the few countries in the world where citizens have to pay taxes in the US no matter where they live. 

[00:17:02] So, McAfee was soon a target for the IRS, the Inland Revenue Service, the government organisation responsible for collecting taxes in the US, as well as for the FBI.

[00:17:16] In January of 2019 McAfee announced that he was officially being chased by the IRS, and as a consequence, he was on the run from the US government. 

[00:17:27] He believed that the US government wanted to make an example out of him, and if he was tried in a US court then he would spend the rest of his life behind bars, in prison.

[00:17:41] In October of 2020, while in Spain, McAfee was arrested by the Spanish police. He was being sought by the IRS on charges of tax evasion, after he had reportedly made millions by promoting cryptocurrencies between 2014 and 2018.

[00:18:00] From October of 2020 to June of 2021, McAfee and his legal team fought the extradition order, they fought to avoid him being sent back to the US.

[00:18:12] While he was in prison, McAfee continued to communicate with the outside world, sending tweets such as:

[00:18:20] I am content in here. I have friends.

[00:18:22] The food is good. All is well. 

[00:18:25] Know that if I hang myself, a la Epstein, it will be no fault of mine.

[00:18:32] That was in October of 2020.

[00:18:35] Then, in June of 2021, the extradition order was approved.

[00:18:41] McAfee was scheduled to be sent back to the US, and hours later he was found dead, apparently by suicide.

[00:18:49] Now, since his death there have been dozens of conspiracy theories about this. From theories that he isn’t actually dead, and that he faked his own death, through to theories that he was murdered, that Latin American gangsters finally managed to get to him.

[00:19:07] The official verdict was suicide, although this is still disputed by his wife, who says that she spoke to him days before and he seemed very happy, not the sort of man who would have taken his own life.

[00:19:22] This isn’t the time or place for a lot of speculation, but let’s just look at both sides for a minute.

[00:19:30] He was forever tricking people, playing tricks on the public, and making people believe things that weren’t true. He was also someone who had spent the majority of his adult life fighting authority, in different forms, and not the sort of person who seemed to give up lightly. 

[00:19:49] Plus, according to his wife and lawyer, he was not suicidal at all.

[00:19:53] So, on that basis, the fact that he killed himself does seem a little out of character.

[00:20:00] But, on the other hand, he was 75 years old, he had lived an incredibly stressful life of adventure and tragedy. He had just found out that he was about to be sent back to a place where he believed he would spend the rest of his life in prison. 

[00:20:19] Is it so unbelievable that he might have decided to end it all? He would no doubt have known that his fans wouldn’t believe that he killed himself, and was this last act his way of leaving one last conspiracy for people to believe?

[00:20:36] In all probability, we will never know for sure, but perhaps that is exactly what John McAfee would have wanted.

[00:20:46] OK then, that is it for today's episode on the eccentric life of John McAfee. 

[00:20:53] He was a security pioneer, a brilliant computer scientist, and a wildly successful businessman. 

[00:20:59] But, he was also deeply troubled and self-destructive

[00:21:03] In his own words, he was “not normal”.

[00:21:07] And whether you think that John McAfee was a mad, dangerous, criminal, or whether he was in fact someone who died a martyr in the fight against a corrupt system, it is hard to deny that he lived a weird but fascinating life.

[00:21:22] And if you have McAfee Anti Virus software on your computer then the next time you get one of those annoying notifications asking you to scan your computer, you will know a little bit more about the man who gave his name to that programme.

[00:21:38] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:21:42] Did you know anything about the life of John McAfee before listening to this? Are you more on the side of him being a dangerous, unstable man, or an unfortunate victim?

[00:21:53] I would love to know.

[00:21:54] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:05] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:22:19] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:22:33] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:22:38] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:43] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the crazy life of John McAfee.

[00:00:28] Now, you might not have heard of John McAfee until recently, or at all. But if you have ever used a Windows computer, you have probably used a programme he created.

[00:00:40] McAfee Antivirus Software, the programme that promises to protect your computer against all sorts of harmful viruses and threats, and keep you safe.

[00:00:51] And if you knew nothing about the life of the man behind the software, you might think that he could have been a quiet computer programmer working away in an office, living an unremarkable life.

[00:01:05] Nothing could be farther from the truth.

[00:01:08] Our story will involve computer viruses, guns, the FBI, drugs, Central American gangsters, murder, cryptocurrency, prostitution, tax evasion, sex, and suicide.

[00:01:23] By the end of today’s episode I think you’ll agree that there are many words one could use to describe the life of John McAfee, but boring and uneventful are not among them.

[00:01:35] Before we get right into our story, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:49] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 180 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:02:10] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:02:22] So, if that's of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:32] Ok then, the crazy life of John McAfee.

[00:02:36] It seems strange to start a story at its end, but for John McAfee, his story ended a month and a half ago, on the 23rd June of 2021.

[00:02:48] He was being held in a Spanish jail cell, awaiting extradition to the United States, he was about to be sent back to America to face charges of tax evasion, of not paying taxes.

[00:03:02] At around 6pm, the guards went to his prison cell, and found him dead, it appeared that he had hung himself a few months before he was going to celebrate his 76th birthday.

[00:03:16] To try to understand how and why McAfee was in this situation, we need to go all the way back to the start of his life.

[00:03:24] He was born in England in 1945, a month after the Japanese had surrendered and World War II was officially over. 

[00:03:33] His father was an American airman, who had been stationed in England. His mother was English.

[00:03:40] The family moved back to America, and McAfee grew up in Virginia, on the Eastern side of the United States. 

[00:03:48] His childhood was, he reported, an unhappy one, as his father was a terrible alcoholic who beat him and his mother. 

[00:03:58] Tragically, his father shot himself when the young McAfee was only 15 years old.

[00:04:04] Understandably, this tragic event left a permanent scar on McAfee, and he said later in an interview "Every relationship I have, he's by my side; every mistrust, he is the negotiator of that mistrust."

[00:04:21] McAfee was a talented mathematician, and started working on a PhD. He managed to progress academically despite starting to drink heavily and experiment with drugs. 

[00:04:33] But it was to be another vice that was to curtail, to stop short, his academic career.

[00:04:41] It was discovered that he had been sleeping with an undergraduate student that he was supposed to be mentoring, that he was supposed to be looking after, and he was kicked out of his PhD programme. 

[00:04:55] This undergraduate student was to become the first of his three wives, but you will see that sexual appetite will be a theme throughout the life of this eccentric man.

[00:05:07] After being kicked out of his PhD programme, he found work doing various different computer programming jobs, but the drink and the drugs didn’t stop. 

[00:05:17] In fact, they only got worse, and by the early 80s he was reportedly drinking a bottle of whisky a day and taking cocaine at his desk.

[00:05:28] This was all while having a series of pretty high-powered technology jobs. 

[00:05:35] McAfee would later report that this wasn't abnormal in the world he was living in. People who were working in technology were also keen on personal experimentation, and altering your senses was one way of doing this.

[00:05:50] Nevertheless, by 1984 McAfee realised that he had to stop, and that was reportedly the last time he ever used drink or drugs.

[00:06:02] His hellraiser lifestyle, his crazy lifestyle, had cost him dearly in terms of personal relationships, and he was becoming increasingly paranoid.

[00:06:14] But this paranoia was to turn into an incredibly useful, and profitable, tool for McAfee.

[00:06:22] The 1980s was a time when personal computers started entering American homes for the first time. 

[00:06:29] They had previously been magical, mysterious objects used by scientists and big organisations. 

[00:06:36] Now, you could have one in your home.

[00:06:39] With the arrival of the first personal computers came the first computer virus, which was programmed by a pair of brothers in Pakistan. 

[00:06:50] These brothers didn’t really know what impact the virus might have, and they didn’t try to hide the fact that they were behind it - indeed, they left their address and their phone number on the message that infected computers received!

[00:07:05] McAfee, being a skillful programmer, created software that could stop this virus. 

[00:07:12] His idea was that he could give the software away for free, so that people could protect their own computers against the virus. 

[00:07:20] McAfee thought companies would also want it to protect their computers, and they would be prepared to pay for it, they just needed to know that they needed it.

[00:07:32] After having created this software, McAfee needed to make people believe that they weren’t safe without it. 

[00:07:39] If you didn’t know what a computer virus was, you first needed to be educated about them before you would feel the need to install McAfee’s software.

[00:07:49] McAfee used all sorts of stunts, all sorts of tricks, to warn people of this huge threat from computer viruses, from going around the country in a camper truck loaded with computers that he called an “antivirus paramedic unit” to frequent TV appearances where he would describe this huge threat that was just waiting to invade your computer.

[00:08:16] McAfee’s marketing efforts worked.

[00:08:19] Big companies immediately bought it, and it was quickly seen as a must-have to protect computers against viruses.

[00:08:28] By 1990 McAfee was making $5 million a year, and by 1993 he controlled 67% of the desktop antivirus market.

[00:08:40] If you have ever bought McAfee Antivirus software, or your computer had it pre-loaded onto it, this is where the original version came from.

[00:08:50] And this, evidently, made John McAfee a very rich man. 

[00:08:55] He sold his shares in the company in 1993, and walked away with around $80 million.

[00:09:05] But while others in a similar situation might have simply retired and enjoyed their millions quietly, John McAfee’s life was about to get a lot crazier.

[00:09:17] His fame as the world’s most famous cyber security expert had made him a target for hackers, and it would be a great badge of honour for a hacker to be able to hack John McAfee. 

[00:09:31] This made him probably even more paranoid, and for the rest of his life he would be constantly watching his back, swapping SIM cards, changing IP addresses, using fake names to buy computers and phones, and forever looking over his shoulder.

[00:09:50] He continued to invest in security-related companies and real estate, but when the 2007 financial crisis came he reported that he lost almost all of his money, going from a fortune of around $100 million to just $4 million. 

[00:10:09] And it was after the financial crisis that things started to reach new levels of crazy.

[00:10:17] He moved to Belize, the tiny Central American country between Mexico and Guatemala, in 2008. He bought up a large plot of land, but claimed that he was being extorted by the Belizean government and a local drug cartel.

[00:10:34] He started to build up a mini army, and hired dozens of private security guards to protect him. They would all be heavily armed, and there are photos of McAfee from his early years in Belize surrounded by people with machine guns.

[00:10:51] By this time he had two failed marriages behind him, and in Belize he seemed to be surrounded by a large number, one could even say a “bevvy”, of young women.

[00:11:05] He continued to build new houses on his land, and before long his compound was a vast collection of different properties, many of them just lying empty.

[00:11:16] Partly for company, and partly to guard the property, McAfee kept 11 dogs, who were semi-wild and would reportedly make a lot of noise.

[00:11:28] This evidently didn’t go down very well with his neighbours, and it annoyed one neighbour in particular: a man named George Faull, another American who spent part of the year living in Belize.

[00:11:42] The story goes that Faull had complained to McAfee multiple times, but nothing happened.

[00:11:48] One day, four of McAfee’s dogs were found dead, poisoned.

[00:11:54] A week later, George Faull, the American neighbour, was found in a pool of blood with a hole through his head, as if he had been executed.

[00:12:05] The Belize police swooped in to question McAfee, who had made no secret of the fact that he hated his American neighbour.

[00:12:14] But before they could get to him, McAfee fled, he escaped from the police, and managed to get into Guatemala, to the north. 

[00:12:23] According to McAfee, he had done nothing wrong, but believed that the Belizean government was deeply corrupt and he didn’t trust his chances with them.

[00:12:35] It should be said that McAfee denies having had anything to do with the murder of George Faull, and nobody has actually been charged for it.

[00:12:45] After having made it to Guatemala, McAfee was held by the police on charges of having entered the country illegally, and he was about to be sent back to Belize.

[00:12:57] While being held in Guatemala, it was reported that he had two small heart attacks in prison, and so his deportation was delayed. 

[00:13:07] As a result, there was time for his lawyers to contest the charges, and he was sent back to the United States, not back to Belize.

[00:13:17] McAfee would later state that he actually faked these heart attacks. 

[00:13:22] Whether he did or not we will never know, but they certainly meant that the next chapter of his life would start as a free man back in the United States, not in a Belizean jail cell.

[00:13:36] Back in the United States, he became even more paranoid

[00:13:41] He believed that he was being chased by Belizean drug gangs with links to the government, and he would travel around the country staying only in motels under anonymous names.

[00:13:53] He remarried in 2013, to a lady called Janice Dyson. They had met on his first night back in the United States in Florida. He was sitting in a bar, she was working as a prostitute. She solicited him, and they quickly fell in love, and she remained by his side for the rest of his life.

[00:14:16] While travelling around the United States, he would carry around lots of different mobile phones, and do things like jump out of his car and attach a mobile phone to another, random car, supposedly to confuse the people who were following him.

[00:14:33] During this time he also went on a personal war against McAfee Antivirus Software, even releasing a parody video called “How to uninstall McAfee Antivirus”. 

[00:14:46] He had sold all of his shares almost 20 years beforehand, and had no links to the company whatsoever.

[00:14:54] He also became even more of a campaigner for internet security, and for privacy. 

[00:15:01] There are countless videos of him talking about the risks posed by things like mobile phones, and talking about the measures that he takes to protect his own security.

[00:15:13] In 2016, he had his first attempt at running for US president. You might have thought that for a man trying to hide, running for President of the United States wasn’t a great idea, but McAfee went ahead anyway.

[00:15:30] He put himself forward as a candidate for the Libertarian party, advocating to end the war on drugs and increase cybersecurity against Russia and China. He didn’t win the nomination, but it wouldn’t be his only bid for President. He tried again in 2020, with a similar agenda, but again, didn’t get very far.

[00:15:55] Not content with a peaceful life with his new wife, he threw himself into new technological developments, and started and invested in several new cybersecurity companies. 

[00:16:07] He also became a vocal proponent of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and it was actually this element of his life that was to lead him to wind up in a Spanish jail cell.

[00:16:21] McAfee, as you have probably gathered by now, was a Libertarian. He was anti-government, anti controls on personal liberty, and an advocate of personal choice. 

[00:16:33] Many people with these kinds of beliefs naturally gravitated towards cryptocurrency, given its decentralised nature.

[00:16:43] McAfee also believed that tax was theft, and he hadn’t filed his US taxes since 2010. 

[00:16:52] As you may know, the US is one of the few countries in the world where citizens have to pay taxes in the US no matter where they live. 

[00:17:02] So, McAfee was soon a target for the IRS, the Inland Revenue Service, the government organisation responsible for collecting taxes in the US, as well as for the FBI.

[00:17:16] In January of 2019 McAfee announced that he was officially being chased by the IRS, and as a consequence, he was on the run from the US government. 

[00:17:27] He believed that the US government wanted to make an example out of him, and if he was tried in a US court then he would spend the rest of his life behind bars, in prison.

[00:17:41] In October of 2020, while in Spain, McAfee was arrested by the Spanish police. He was being sought by the IRS on charges of tax evasion, after he had reportedly made millions by promoting cryptocurrencies between 2014 and 2018.

[00:18:00] From October of 2020 to June of 2021, McAfee and his legal team fought the extradition order, they fought to avoid him being sent back to the US.

[00:18:12] While he was in prison, McAfee continued to communicate with the outside world, sending tweets such as:

[00:18:20] I am content in here. I have friends.

[00:18:22] The food is good. All is well. 

[00:18:25] Know that if I hang myself, a la Epstein, it will be no fault of mine.

[00:18:32] That was in October of 2020.

[00:18:35] Then, in June of 2021, the extradition order was approved.

[00:18:41] McAfee was scheduled to be sent back to the US, and hours later he was found dead, apparently by suicide.

[00:18:49] Now, since his death there have been dozens of conspiracy theories about this. From theories that he isn’t actually dead, and that he faked his own death, through to theories that he was murdered, that Latin American gangsters finally managed to get to him.

[00:19:07] The official verdict was suicide, although this is still disputed by his wife, who says that she spoke to him days before and he seemed very happy, not the sort of man who would have taken his own life.

[00:19:22] This isn’t the time or place for a lot of speculation, but let’s just look at both sides for a minute.

[00:19:30] He was forever tricking people, playing tricks on the public, and making people believe things that weren’t true. He was also someone who had spent the majority of his adult life fighting authority, in different forms, and not the sort of person who seemed to give up lightly. 

[00:19:49] Plus, according to his wife and lawyer, he was not suicidal at all.

[00:19:53] So, on that basis, the fact that he killed himself does seem a little out of character.

[00:20:00] But, on the other hand, he was 75 years old, he had lived an incredibly stressful life of adventure and tragedy. He had just found out that he was about to be sent back to a place where he believed he would spend the rest of his life in prison. 

[00:20:19] Is it so unbelievable that he might have decided to end it all? He would no doubt have known that his fans wouldn’t believe that he killed himself, and was this last act his way of leaving one last conspiracy for people to believe?

[00:20:36] In all probability, we will never know for sure, but perhaps that is exactly what John McAfee would have wanted.

[00:20:46] OK then, that is it for today's episode on the eccentric life of John McAfee. 

[00:20:53] He was a security pioneer, a brilliant computer scientist, and a wildly successful businessman. 

[00:20:59] But, he was also deeply troubled and self-destructive

[00:21:03] In his own words, he was “not normal”.

[00:21:07] And whether you think that John McAfee was a mad, dangerous, criminal, or whether he was in fact someone who died a martyr in the fight against a corrupt system, it is hard to deny that he lived a weird but fascinating life.

[00:21:22] And if you have McAfee Anti Virus software on your computer then the next time you get one of those annoying notifications asking you to scan your computer, you will know a little bit more about the man who gave his name to that programme.

[00:21:38] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:21:42] Did you know anything about the life of John McAfee before listening to this? Are you more on the side of him being a dangerous, unstable man, or an unfortunate victim?

[00:21:53] I would love to know.

[00:21:54] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:05] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:22:19] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:22:33] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:22:38] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:43] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]