Forget ‘Tiger King’: Software Billionaire John McAfee Lived the World’s Wildest Life
Check out these five way-stranger-than-fiction details of the subject of a juicy new Netflix documentary
It takes a legend to merit a documentary. And the late antivirus software tycoon John McAfee, who made his millions as a Silicon Valley pioneer, was himself often so toxic that he managed to infect many he came in contact with during his 75 hell-raising years — a wild life that’s the subject of Netflix’s new documentary Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee. While some saw him as that toxic threat, others saw him as a colorful renegade, dropping truth bombs on Twitter to his 1.1 million followers when he wasn’t doing drugs, drinking heavily or shooting off some of the many guns in his possession.
Born in England to a British mother and an abusive, alcoholic American father, McAfee started out as a brilliant math nerd, going so far as to start work on a doctorate in math at Northeast Louisiana State College before being thrown out for having an affair with an undergraduate. It was a sign of things to come, but McAfee still pursued a conventional career for a while, working as a programmer for the Apollo program at NASA and going from there to Booz Allen Hamilton and Lockheed. When he got wind in 1986 of a bad computer virus that was designed to infect PCs, he saw his chance to create a system to keep malware off computers — and made his fortune with McAfee antivirus software.
But from there things go really off the rails. While McAfee dabbled in cryptocurrency, yoga and biochemistry ventures, the stock market crash of the late 2000s wiped out most of his fortune. He decamped to Belize in 2008. Four year later, a neighbor with whom he was feuding was found shot dead in the head and McAfee went on the lam, claiming he wanted to avoid false arrest for other, older (and murky) reasons.
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In 2021, while boarding a flight to Turkey from Spain, he was arrested on charges of securities fraud stemming from a cryptocurrency “pump and dump” scheme. Though he had long said he was not suicidal, even to the point of having the word “$WHACKD” tattooed on his arm, McAfee was found dead in his Barcelona prison cell (allegedly by hanging) while awaiting extradition to the United States on tax evasion charges.
The documentary, which includes footage from a film crew McAfee invited along for part of his wild ride, brings this story to vivid life. But there’s more: Check out these five more amazing things about John McAfee that you won’t believe are true … because when it comes to this guy, the truth is clearly stranger than fiction.
1. He could still be alive.
In his last years, McAfee often took very young women as lovers — some of whom were prostitutes or otherwise led very tough lives. In Belize his girlfriend was 18-year-old Samantha Herrera, and he took her with him when he fled Belize for Guatemala in 2012 after the killing of his neighbor Gregory Faull. When McAfee was deported to the U.S. in 2013, he left Herrera back in Belize. He landed in Miami and the very next day hired a prostitute, Janice Dyson, whom he would later marry. Dyson was still his wife at the time of his death. But it’s Herrera we see at the end of the film, telling director Charlie Russell that she got a mysterious call several weeks after McAfee’s death. She said it was John and he told her he paid people off to fake his death and is now living in Texas. Is it true? Herrera comes off as more convincing than you might think, and Russell says he doesn’t know.
2. He might have secretly killed his own father.
Alex Cody Foster, a ghostwriter McAfee hired to write his autobiography, plays some tapes of interviews he did with McAfee and doesn’t even realize their significance until the cameras are rolling. Foster says that McAfee told him his childhood was miserable: He watched his drunken father violently beat his mother and endured his violence personally as well. One day, when John was 15, his father shot himself dead. Or did he? We hear McAfee’s voice on the tape: “I want to change the world. I want my children and grandchildren and your children to have a better world than us where we have some love,” he says. “And there’s a certain humanity — this world I’ve lived in, growing up with a father who broke my arms and abused me to the point where it was unbearable, abused my mother … to the point where I did something about it.” Foster, looking shell-shocked, addresses the camera: “Whoa. I never remembered that. I didn’t know he said that. ... I feel like that was an admission right there.”
3. He could have been a contender (for an Oscar).
Had the early coding gig not worked out, McAfee might have given Marlon Brando some competition in the acting department. When he went on the lam to Guatemala from Belize, McAfee was arrested for entering the country illegally and was in some serious hot water. But as always, he had a scheme up his sleeve. While the federales swarmed his hotel in Guatemala City, McAfee alternately smoked cigarettes, played the flute and kibitzed with his girlfriend’s uncle, a highly connected attorney. Oh, and he also chose that moment to propose to Herrera. But then we see McAfee being whisked off in an Interpol van, and the next thing you know he’s on a gurney being taken to the hospital because he’s had a heart attack. Only he hasn’t really had one. He faked it, with great success. Guatemalan officials washed their hands of him and put him on a plane to Miami. He said later that he had “played the crazy card”: “It was a deception, but who did it hurt? I look pretty healthy, don't I?” He added: “Everyone was looking for me, and they did not catch me. I escaped, was captured and they tried to send me back. Now I’m sitting in Miami. There had to be some ineptness. What’s a better story: Millionaire madman on the run.”
4. He admits to having wanted to kill his family during three “lost months” of drug use in the 1970s.
In the 1970s, while married to his first wife, Lindsay, the mother of a daughter with whom McAfee was photographed when she was young but whose identity he always kept secret, McAfee began doing heavy drugs and drinking. His wife finally left him and took their daughter to his mother’s home in Virginia. According to No Domain: The John McAfee Tapes, a collaboration with Scottish writer Mark Eglinton, McAfee overdosed on DMT, the powerful hallucinogenic and so-called spirit molecule, and lost contact with reality for three months. “I was going to kill my mother, my wife, and my baby daughter because God had told me to,” he told Eglinton. “It’s important that you don’t judge me here, my friend. In my mind, this was the only thing I could do.”
5. His widow is almost as much of a character as McAfee himself.
Janice Dyson was 34, older than most of McAfee’s women, when he spotted her outside a cafe in Miami and paid her for a day and night of sex work. Dyson had worked as a prostitute for more than 10 years; before McAfee, her most steady relationship was with her violent pimp, and she rarely saw her son. She was refreshingly honest when asked if it was love at first sight with McAfee. “F--- no. … I just saw an opportunity,” she says. Dyson says in the documentary that when her pimp found out who McAfee was, he introduced her to cartel bosses who wanted to kill him — and she acted as a paid spy for them for a while at her pimp’s behest. She said she continued spying on him after their 2013 wedding, finally confessing everything to him. The couple, who are seen dancing, joking and sometimes shouting at each other, lived in a gun-filled Tennessee mansion before relocating to the Dominican Republic (where they were arrested for gun possession) and then to Spain. She has shown the same flair for paranoid melodrama as her late husband. In December 2021, she posted a peaceful photo of a beach with palm trees. The text read: “Since John’s death there has been an effort to guarantee I would not make it to my next birthday although I believe the ultimate goal is to ensure that I do not leave Spain alive.”
Dana Kennedy is a contributing writer who has covered popular culture for the New York Post, The New York Times, Time, AP and ABC News.