Earlier this month I celebrated a significant birthday, but on Tuesday I received (significantly) more messages that evening than I did on my birthday.
That was because John McAfee had died in a Spanish prison and I was surprised that so many people equated me with him with their messages of condolence. Perhaps they knew we were friends or they’d seen me interview him on stage or on my podcast. Whatever the reason, it was a sad day for me because we were friends, even though we only met a couple of times and I wouldn’t exactly lie under a hammock below him (you KNOW what I mean), but we really got on. Not only that, he was smart, really smart and he knew exactly what he was doing.
Maverick is an overused word nowadays. It now refers to anybody who slightly refuses to tow the party tech-fixated line and it’s very, very difficult to live a life of freedom now, pandemic or not, but McAfee really lived the life.
The slightly uncomfortable feeling I had when I first met him was that we were very alike. Whereas I had been saved from freedom-nihilism by the purpose of being in a family raising a son and (mostly) leaving insane and travelling things behind, McAfee kept on the road, sticking his finger up at those who tried to control him.
His stories were legion and I believe them. When we were in cahoots on a yacht in Malta, there was the agreement that hiding in plain sight was a very intelligent philosophy.
For me, it was living next to the Police station in a palm hut in Dahaab (Sinai, Egypt) for the winter of 1987, for McAfee it was a room near the Guatemalan border when he was on the run in Belize.
For a month, McAfee lived in a room, never going out and making moves for his getaway with a boat across the border ready to take him away. These are more or less his words (minus the expletives).
“Man, those cops were so dumb, I was living next door to them, but I knew I had to wait, so I kept checking my weather app every day for the right day to get out of Dodge,” he said.
“Finally, the day came. It was going to rain for two days and it was now or never. I knew the cops wouldn’t do anything in the rain and I knew it would be easy to get across the border.
“Man, I got a taxi to the border. There were Wanted pictures of me on the dashboard, but the driver didn’t notice. When I got out, there were more Wanted pictures of me nailed to all the palm trees as I walked to the border.
“There were loads of cops, but they were all keeping dry and staying under their umbrellas, so I kept walking, nobody was at the border and my wife and I managed to get away on the boat around the corner.”
That is a legendary story and I’m not surprised he’s sold the movie rights, but as he told me in 2018 he didn’t want that ‘b*****d Johnny Depp’ to play him. A visionary as well, it would appear.
Naturally, for professional and parental reasons, I cannot mention my counter-story, but they weren’t dissimilar and McAfee laughed his guts out and nearly choked on his whisky, but we knew what risks were worth taking, if for no other reason than life itself and to repeat those stories.
Now he is gone, the almost certain repatriation to the US and awaiting legislators who like nothing better than bringing mavericks in, was probably a step too far, even for this antithesis of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Hiding in plain sight, dying with mystery and living life on the High Seas as the Pirate of Tech for two decades and dividing opinion with his antics and intelligence, you will be missed, John McAfee, not least by me.
See you on the (same) other side, I would imagine. RIP comrade.
Monty Munford is a tech journalist and is the Chief Evangelist and core contributor to the Sienna Network project.
He WAS a keynote speaker/emcee/moderator/interviewer at prestigious events around the world until Covid destroyed his conference speaking career… until 2023. He has spoken at more than 200 global events.
He also runs his own crypto podcast https://blockspeak.io
He was previously a weekly tech columnist for Forbes in New York, the Telegraph in the UK and continues to write regularly for the BBC, The Economist, The FT and… City AM.