“I have nothing. Yet I regret nothing”. The final words of internet legend, John McAfee

A man I admired very much just left this world today. Maybe you didn’t admire him. Maybe you thought him a lunatic, and that’s ok. In many ways, you’d be right. He was. But he was an inspirational lunatic. A man who didn’t do what people told him. A man who forged his own path and lived his own life. A life of adventure, of recklessness, of success and of failure.

John McAfee – Wired.com

I’m talking about John McAfee. Who ? You know. McAfee antivirus. If you have antivirus on your computer right now, there’s about an 8% chance you’re running the software from the company that bears his name. It used to be a lot more, but the market is very segmented now and we mostly rely on Windows Defender.

McAfee founded the company way back in 1987. Yeah, you probably didn’t even have a PC at the time did you ? Me either. I was 9 and living somewhere in the South Pacific islands. McAfee AV rose to prominence, with John at the helm doing TV spots and leading his small team around the time the Michelangelo virus was destroying boot sectors and ruining lives. He warned people that on Michelangelo’s upcoming birthday, the virus would destroy the boot sector of any computer that was infected with it, rendering the computer unbootable. He pushed his software as the solution.

It was. Disaster was averted for many, and when disaster is averted, people always question whether there was any danger of disaster in the first place. People accused McAfee of profiteering from fear of the virus. But when I first became a PC user, Michelangelo was the first virus I became aware of. I remember bringing home floppies from a friend’s house, scanning them and seeing “ALERT. Michelangelo virus detected !” and thinking “Phew. Thank God for that”.

God ? Or John McAfee ? Sometimes it seemed the man himself couldn’t tell the difference and acted like he was God. Like any good billionaire or IT startup pioneer, McAfee was imbued with a healthy dose of narcissism. He thought he could change the world, and he tried. Sometimes he did. His name certainly lives on, attached to the second most popular antivirus software in the world today, and one of the first ever to gain recognition.

But John McAfee didn’t stick with anti-virus. Once his company was valuable, he took the opportunity to bail out. Why stick with one thing when he could do anything ? He went to enjoy life a bit, buying some land in the middle of nowhere and starting an unusual type of flying school for thrill seekers. It didn’t go well. There were injuries or deaths, and McAfee, sensing incoming lawsuits, shut down and moved abroad. He had a habit of always knowing when the heat was on him and knowing the right time to beat a hasty retreat.

He did it again in Belize, where he was developing a revolutionary new medicine that could change the world from a local plant. But his eccentric ways, his lifestyle and the consequences of his large personality caught up to him. He was famous for his harem of beautiful local women, keeping him company while his small army of hired security stood guard outside his compound. He ingratiated himself to the local police by funding their station. He bought them machine guns and laptops, and he of course installed spyware and keyloggers onto the laptops, because what better way to ensure his safety and power after buying the local police’s favour than to monitor their every move ?

When his expat neighbour turned up murdered after a row with John regarding his dogs running wild and harassing people on the beach outside his villa, all eyes looked at McAfee, and while he maintained plausible deniability and it was clearly not he himself who had done it, he saw the writing on the wall and took his leave very quickly, fleeing the country.

That’s where I started following John’s story, reading his blogs and following him on Twitter as he regaled readers with his adventures like he was giving a lesson in how to live a strange and adventurous life, and a lesson it surely was. I read with enthusiasm as he described travelling with multiple passports and press cards in different names to allow him to easily pass police checkpoints across South America with ease, whether you had anything to hide or not. Following his example, I myself carried two passports and two press cards in different names. Unlike McAfee mine weren’t forged. They were my real names at various times. But all the same I thought “Just in case I’m ever running from the Belize police across South America for the alleged murder for hire of my neighbours, it’s good to have, to throw people off”.

I emailed John once, after enjoying his tales for a while and suggested that if he ever jumped continents and found himself on the Asian one, he should stop into Saigon so I could buy him a beer and chat to him. I gave him my Twitter. He was a busy man. He didn’t take me up on the offer, though I sure wish he had. I never knew if he even read my email, until today. The man was older than my father, and when he spoke, I wanted to hear what he was saying.

He pumped Bitcoin and crypto stock, and then dumped it, enraging some people who accused him of lacking morals. The man was on the run. What do you expect ? But it didn’t stop him running for president of the United States of America. You heard me right. He ran on the libertarian ticket in 2020 against Donald Trump. He lacked support from the libertarian party and he clearly did not have a huge impact, except on his many followers who applauded such a bold move by a man with great aspirations and a somewhat clouded past.

John McAfee’s life and adventures were long, so I won’t go into all of the details. For a while, even interested followers like myself thought perhaps he had gone completely mad when he began tweeting and streaming from an aluminium foil covered room as he swore that “People were listening”.

In October last year, he found himself in a Spanish prison, after being arrested upon arrival at the request of a Tennessee court based on tax evasion charges. He languished there, recently beginning tweeting sad but beautiful things.

“In a democracy, power is given not taken. But it is still power. Love, compassion, caring have no use for it. But it is fuel for greed, hostility, jealousy… All power corrupts. Take care which powers you allow a democracy to wield”

“There is much sorrow in prison, disguised as hostility. The sorrow is plainly visible even in the most angry faces. I’m old and content with food and a bed but for the young prison is a horror – a reflection of the minds of those who conceived them”

“I can see a small piece of sky above the tall concrete walls of the prison yard. The walls seem to frame, in contrast, the deep blue sky and the fluffy clouds drifting through it. It turns this tiny sky window into a jewel of extraordinary beauty”

His final tweet to the world finished with two short sentences. “I have nothing. Yet, I regret nothing”

But that’s not the tweet from the final days of John McAfee that kills me.

“I have a million followers but I’d be surprised if even 1% bother to read my Tweets. Ramblings of an old man lost in a near infinite Twitterverse – like tears in rain. As you may guess, I’m having a bad day”.

Why does it kill me ? Because today I realised, John read that email, that offer of a beer. He follows me on Twitter. I have 18 followers, and US presidential candidate, computer genius, iconoclast, lover of women, adventure and mystery, John McAfee was one of them. In the last year I was in Europe when he was in America, and then I was in America when he was in Europe.

John McAfee died aged 75 in a Spanish prison. I’d tell you how many children he leaves behind, but no one really knows. He is once quoted as saying “Since you asked, I have 47 children, 61 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren”. But could even he know ? There’s things we will never know about John McAfee, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a damn good story all the same.

John, The fact that you went to the trouble of following me tells me you appreciated my email, my stories and that if we were ever nearby, you might have dropped in for that beer. I really wish you had, John. I really wish you had.



You may also like...