Johnny Depp may be fully submerged in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise these days, but when he's not wobbling about as Captain Jack Sparrow, he's still piling some pretty extraordinary projects onto his plate. And his newly announced role is nothing short of explosive.
The Oscar nominee has recently been confirmed to star in King of the Jungle, a dark comedy based on a true story behind John McAfee — a tech magnate that bestowed his name unto the McAfee Antivirus software we all know and rely on to keep those damaging internet pests at bay. However, it's very clear that the upcoming movie will feature no Steve Jobs kind of rhetoric but instead a fascinating glimpse into the life of a man who had it all, who lost his enormous fortune and opted out of modern civilization by moving into the dark depths of the Belizean jungle.
Based on a Wired magazine article called John McAfee's Last Stand — written by journalist Joshua Davis — the #KingOfTheJungle will provide an unsettling insight into a mind of madness that gave up society to rub shoulders with killers and prostitutes on a heavily-guarded tropical compound at the edge of the Earth. Here's his story:
The True Story Behind King Of The Jungle:
'My Life Is F–cked'
Born in the United Kingdom in the '40s to a road surveyor and a bank-teller, John moved with his parents to Roanoke, Virginia, when he was a little boy. However, his childhood was far from easy — his father was a heavy drinker, a "very unhappy man" and one that channeled his day-to-day frustrations into being extremely abusive towards his son and his wife. At the age of 15, John's dad committed suicide, a dark moment that continues to through his life decades later. During an interview with Wired, McAfee revealed:
"Every day I wake up with him. Every relationship I have, he’s by my side; every mistrust, he is the negotiator of that mistrust. So my life is fucked.”
As a student, McAfee went on to attend Roanoke College, where he started drinking heavily while leading a small-scale business of selling magazines subscriptions — a venture that ended up earning him a decent fortune. Following his graduation, he began working as a programer and software designer after learning the basics of coded punch-card systems in the late '60s. Landing a job at Missouri Pacific Railroad in St. Louis, he began to meddle with IBM computers used to optimize train schedules, all the while spending his hard-earned money on booze and cocaine. Then, he discovered LSD.
'My Mind Was Shattered'
Dropping acid in the morning before work, he would come into the office to schedule trains high off his mind. However, it was when he stumbled upon another, stronger psychedelic called DMT that he really started slipping. McAfee recalls snorting an entire bag of the powder after convincing himself that a line wasn't doing anything, telling journalists later that:
"Within an hour my mind was shattered."
Hearing voices and unable to communicate with the people around him, he left the office in a flurry of paranoia and never returned to Missouri Pacific Railroad again. According to Wired's Joshua Davis:
"Part of him believes he’s still on that trip, that everything since has been one giant hallucination and that one day he’ll snap out of it and find himself back on his couch in St. Louis, listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon."
However, despite his DMT ordeal, John was not deterred from substance abuse and after a few years of working for companies such as NASA, Univac and Xeros, he snapped up a job at Omex in the '80s. There, he regressed and began snorting lines of coke in the morning, as well as downing a bottle of scotch once a day.
After a few years of rapid deterioration, his wife divorced him and left him to wallow in his own drug-fueled misery while contemplating suicide just like his father had done decades ago. Feeling alone and scared, he decided to seek help, attending Alcoholics Anonymous and finally finding sobriety in 1983.
The Rise Of McAfee Associates
Diving back into software development, McAfee was working at Lockheed Martin when the first computer virus was unleashed in 1986. However, instead of sticking around to learn more about these malicious programs infiltrating computer systems all around the world, he decided to start his own company. And so, McAfee Associates was born — a cybersecurity firm that went on to develop comprehensive anti-virus systems and make at least $5 million a year by the end of the '80s.
McAfee's success rocketed. And following the outbreak of an aggressive virus called "Michaelangelo" in 1992, he continued to inject his rampant paranoia into millions of consumers reaching for McAfee Associates to provide them with security. By the early '90s, the company was worth millions of dollars and John used the opportunity to cash in on the big prize, selling his stocks in the company and shoving a colossal $100 million into his bank account.
The Fall Of A Tech Magnate
Buying a 280-acre compound in Colorado (as well as a slew of other properties around the US), 47-years-old McAfee turned his attention to personal interests. And among many things, he plunged himself into the extreme sport of aerotrekking, which involves flying very low on a half-motorbike, half-hang-glider contraption. Extremely dangerous and obscure, despite investing millions into commercializing his pastime, the craze failed to catch on.
Then in 2009, at the height of the worldwide economic crisis, John's worth plummeted from $100 million to $4 million, forcing him to auction off his properties and discard his business ventures. Left virtually penniless, bored and depressed, he decided to reject his flailing rich man's lifestyle and move to Central America, settling in Carmelita in Belize. There, Joshua Davis writes:
"He built a jail in the village, surrounded himself with armed guards and started acting like John Wayne... He never told the villagers what he was doing, and the authorities believed he was acting like a narco-trafficker."
However, despite abandoning advanced civilization, John's entrepreneurial mind continued to work in overdrive.
By 2010, John began researching a plant-based jungle bacteria that he believed would revolutionize the world of antibiotics. As well as purchasing 22-acres of land in Belize to grow the plants, he also hired scientific researcher Allison Adonizio to work in his laboratory, forming a company called Quorumex to develop the drug, Meanwhile, he went around the area feeding poor families and giving them jobs.
'Super Perv Powder' And 'Bath Salts'
However, after years of sobriety, McAfee also began to regress into heavy drug use. As well as injecting his buttocks every day with testosterone to ward off old age, he became obsessed with a psychoactive compound known MDPV, otherwise known as "bath salts." Writing on a blog under the name "stuffmonger," he even engaged with online communities to provide descriptions on how to trigger hallucinations by taking it via the rectum:
"Apply a small amount of saliva to the middle finger, press it against the dose, insert. Doesn't really hurt as much as it sounds. We're in an arena (drugs/libido), that I navigate as well as anyone on the planet here. If you take my advice about this (may sound gross to some), you will be well rewarded."
As his fascination with the drug he also referred to a "super perv powder" grew — a substance that he believed would induce sexual behavior in women — John began to spend more time at a local bar called "Lover's." Here, although he didn't drink, he mingled with "prostitutes, thieves and the handicapped." Speaking to Wired, he recalled recognizing that he had entered into a dangerous world:
"Ninety-nine percent of people would run because they’d fear for their safety or sanity. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t walk away. [...] For some reason I have always been fascinated by these subcultures."
John McAfee Turned Into 'A Very Scary Person'
Adopting dogs, stockpiling guns and having outrageous, drug-fueled sex orgies with young women — with some as young as 17 — John definitively cast himself adrift from the conventional norms of society and his affluent Silicon Valley past. And with his psychosis and erratic behavior reaching peak levels, his paranoia grew and he became convinced that he was being watched 24/7 by the authorities and local gangs. Understandably, his laboratory assistant Adonizio became increasingly concerned with his behavior and left the country after fearing for her own safety. She said:
"He turned into a very scary person."
As McAfee continued to gather guns and security personnel around him, it didn't go unnoticed by Belize's Ministry of National Security. And the authorities made it their mission to find out what exactly was going on behind closed doors at McAfee's headquarters. Writing to Wired, Marco Vidal — head of the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) — explained reasons for proposing a raid:
"We got information to suggest that there may have been a meth laboratory at his location. Given the intelligence on McAfee, there was no scope for making efforts to resolve the matter."
However, when the compound was searched on April 30, 2012, nothing but a few unlicensed weapons and ammunition were found. John was released without a charge.
'They Were Coming For Me'
Amid the scandal in 2012, McAfee abruptly left Belize. However, it wasn't his paranoia regarding the police that drove him away but the murder of his American neighbor and local builder Gregory Faull — the man was found dead with a 9mm round to the back of his head. For years, the two men had argued over John's "rogueish behavior" and his 11 dogs making noise around the compound, leading the former anti-virus magnate to suspect Faull of fatally poisoning some of them.
McAfee quickly became the main suspect, but firmly rejected the fact that he had killed anyone. Instead, he blamed the GSU:
"I thought maybe they were coming for me. They mistook him for me. They got the wrong house. He’s dead. They killed him. It spooked me out. [...] Once they collect me, it’s the end of me."
Fleeing to Guatemala with his 20-year-old girlfriend Samantha Vanegas, he has since managed to evade Belizean authorities with the country's Prime Minister referring to him as "extremely paranoid, even bonkers."
A Return To Technology
After eventually being deported to Miami, USA, the Belizean government essentially dropped all efforts to extradite McAfee in January 2014, auctioning off his island assets as he continued to deny that he did not kill Gregory Faull. Fast forward to 2017, and John is firmly back on American soil and working within the technology field that he abandoned all those years ago.
Coming out in public forums in support of net neutrality, he's since resumed his life in modern society. Among many of his ventures, he's spearheaded a bunch of start-ups and become a harsh critic of big mobile corporations such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, saying that "they've been screwing us for years." Oh, and as well as running for President as the Libertarian Party candidate in 2016, he's also the man behind this bizarre gem:
John McAfee, the man #JohnnyDepp will be playing, currently lives in Portland with his wife Janice Dyson and is the CEO of cybersecurity firm MGT Capital.
Did you already know the true story behind John McAfee?