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John McAfee, fundador de la compañía de programas de cómputo que lleva su nombre, habla durante la presentación de equipo en Ambergris Caye, Belice, el jueves 8 de noviembre de 2012. (Foto AP/Ambergris Today Online-Sofía Muñoz)

John McAfee's dizzying journey from 1980s software pioneer to a wanted man fleeing his heavily guarded, oceanfront compound ahead of Belizean homicide investigators is hardly the typical trajectory of a Silicon Valley startup mogul.

But the powerful alchemy of inspiration, drive, ego and genius that propelled McAfee down his eccentric path is the same potent brew that continues to fuel dreamers and doers who are nurtured in -- and flock to -- Silicon Valley to try out fantastic ideas that range from the incomprehensible to the earth-shattering.

"Silicon Valley culture really rewards a certain kind of single-minded pursuit of success," said Leslie Berlin, a historian with Stanford University's Silicon Valley archives and a fellow at Stanford's Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences. "It's a culture that rewards success with financial rewards and with a real lionization of the entrepreneur who really leaves it all on the field. The inevitable question becomes, 'What next?'"

McAfee, 67, answered the question by quitting his namesake antivirus company of rollicking programmers and moving to Woodland Park, Colo., where he launched an Internet chat site that he sold for $17 million in 1999. He once had a fortune estimated at $100 million, but he lost much of that as the economy entered a tailspin.

Other moves followed, and new ventures, too, including the study of yoga and work with lightweight, low-flying aircraft. In 2008 he moved to the Belizean island of Ambergris Caye, where his interest shifted from foiling computer viruses to searching for new antibiotics that would foil human viruses. And it was in Belize that McAfee's life took it's darkest turn, placing him as a "person of interest" in the investigation into a neighbor's slaying.

While McAfee's post-Silicon Valley evolution appears to be an extreme transformation, the general pattern is a familiar one. In fact, the valley's narrative is packed with stories of innovators and entrepreneurs who hit it big and then turned their hypercreative minds to new pursuits in business or beyond.

Author Michael S. Malone said you can start with McAfee's contemporaries from the 1970s and '80s, including Apple's (AAPL) Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and Atari's Nolan Bushnell.

"Their attitude was, 'We're a new generation. We set different rules. We live our own way and we don't have to build old-fashioned companies with org charts and office cubicles and all that,'" said Malone, who has written extensively about Silicon Valley's history and companies. "'We can just go for it.'"

There was a certain counter-culture feel to it all -- the 1980s tech generation was steeped in the notions of finding yourself while doing your own thing. Jobs, who had used LSD as a young man and took a self-awareness tour of India, made a triumphant return to Apple. But he wasn't satisfied with running one company. He bought Pixar.

Wozniak went on to produce the US Festival, an early 1980s series of mega-concerts that launched Wozniak's personal multimillion-dollar diplomacy effort with the Soviet Union. Bushnell, after selling Atari, went on to start a pizza and entertainment chain fronted by a giant mouse named Chuck E. Cheese.

It has been ever thus. Silicon Valley's creative geniuses don't always, or even usually, go off the rails. The powerful force of intellect has been turned to good more often than it has resulted in self-destruction. Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers bought a solar cell company when many thought the field was folly. Adobe (ADBE) co-founder John Warnock turned his mind to creating digital copies of the world's rarest books, making them widely available to all. Oracle's (ORCL) Larry Ellison found an outlet by supporting research into aging, hoping to find a way to extend life and ease the challenges of old age.

And aside from working to conquer the earthly worlds of Internet search, advertising, communication, clean energy and driverless cars, Google (GOOG) CEO Larry Page has set his sights on becoming a literal master of the universe. Along with other millionaires and billionaires, including Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Page is backing a plan to use robotic spacecraft to mine asteroids for precious metals, according to The Associated Press.

But the sense of invincibility needed to push the limits of the future can come with a price, as was the case with Dennis Barnhart. On the day of his company's 1983 IPO, the Eagle Computer president crashed his Ferrari and killed himself in a drunken-driving accident near his Los Gatos headquarters.

McAfee's unraveling appears to be less spur-of-the-moment and more long-in-coming.

McAfee told The Associated Press that he is innocent in the killing of Gregory Viant Faull, 52, who was found the morning of Nov. 11 lying in a pool of blood at home with a gunshot wound in the back of his head.

Despite his professed innocence, McAfee and a teenage girl apparently have been moving to avoid police, who McAfee has said want to kill him. McAfee told Wired magazine that at one point he gave authorities the slip by burying himself in the sand with a box over his head so he could breathe.

"A lot of times (Silicon Valley entrepreneurs) go a little crazy and the end result is they get in trouble," said Rob Enderle, a San Jose technology analyst. "They don't want to be that one-hit wonder. They get excited about the celebrity of it all and they start chasing that celebrity. Your behavior changes substantially."

Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.