Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s life story reads like a sci-fi action thriller, only with a rocky, awkward beginning and a few false starts along the way.
He coded his first computer game when he was 12 – a space-themed quest, no surprise. He couch-surfed broke and without a home as an immigrant in Canada. He bounced back and made his first millions in an Internet minute at the tender age of 28. And he walked away from being held at gunpoint while trying to buy rockets in Russia.
Oh, and he’s hellbent on putting the first man on Mars. No big deal.
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As of late, the entrepreneur has been making headlines for his recent bid to acquire Twitter for $44 billion. Musk is a majority shareholder with nearly 10 percent of the social media platform’s total shares and spoke to Twitter employees regarding the deal on June 17.
“You know, some people use their hair to express themselves, I use Twitter. So you know, I find it’s the best forum for communicating with a lot of people simultaneously,” he told Twitter staff about why he chose to buy the platform.
Musk’s reputation for speaking his mind, combined with his often sarcastic tone, has led to some Twitter spats. “So maybe there’s some way to indicate tone?” he suggested. “I mean, emoji sorta do that. But I don’t know, maybe they could have like, I don’t know, an irony flag or something: This is an ironic tweet. Something like that.”
Aside from his impending Twitter deal, there’s a lot more to Musk than what meets the eye.
Here are five surprising facts about the futurist billionaire you might not know.
1. He was the inspiration for Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies.
The rumors aren’t PR sorcery after all. At first, Iron Man director Jon Favreau struggled with how to bring the charismatic tech tycoon Tony Stark character to life. Then Robert Downey Jr. convinced Favreau to chat in person with Mr Musk. He did and the rest is Hollywood history. Favreau says he has zero regrets. “Downey was right,” he wrote in TIME. “Elon is a paragon of enthusiasm, good humor, and curiosity – a Renaissance man in an era that needs them.”
Favreau was looking for a “guy who could make anything happen.” He hit the bullseye with Musk. “So we came to see him,” Favreau told The Telegraph. “He likes to say engineering is the closest thing to magic, and he really believes that.”
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Musk was a good sport about his flashy big-screen portrayal, even appearing for 10 seconds as himself in Iron Man 2. He also allowed portions of the flick to be filmed inside and outside of SpaceX, his Hawthorne, Calif.-based space enterprise .
2. He spent up to five hours a day reading as a child and still does.
Take note, parents: Kids don’t get Elon Musk smart zoning out on TV all day. Considering his long list of intellectual pursuits and accomplishments, it’s no surprise that the spacecraft specialist and was a voracious reader. As a child, he read four to five hours a day, his veteran fashion model mother, Maye Musk, told GQ, consuming superhero-filled comic books such as Superman, Batman, Doctor Strange, and yes, Iron Man, as well as JRR Tolkien epics.
He still reads books like a madman today, just not the paper kind. Back in 2012, Forbes reported that the bookshelves in the massive library in his sprawling Bel Air, Calif. mansion remain empty. That’s because he “devours books exclusively on his iPhone,” including titles like Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs and the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
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Musk also reportedly no longer reads works of fiction. He’s a man of fact. “Elon simply isn’t interested in things that are not there,” also reported Forbes. “Only in things that are, or plausibly could be. Facts. Elon needs facts the way he needs air.”
3. He was chronically bullied in school.
Musk wasn’t always the “it” guy everyone wants to talk to or be. He didn’t fit in at school in his hometown of Pretoria, South Africa. His mom told Esquire in 2012 that he was “the youngest and smallest guy in his school.” Bullies preyed on him daily.
“I was almost beaten to death, if you would call that bullied,” Musk told 60 Minutes.
“Kids gave Elon a very hard time,” his younger brother, Kimbal, said. “It’s pretty rough in South Africa. If you’re getting bullied, you still have to go to school. You just have to get up in the morning and go. He hated it so much.”
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Musk eventually found comfort in tinkering with computers and entrepreneurship. He sold Blastar, the galactic video game he coded as a preteen, for $500 and came very close to opening an arcade near his high school. Formerly a Canadian citizen and now a US citizen, Musk boasts more than a few successful tech startups under his belt — including PayPal. He’s a world-renowned, astronomically successful businessman, sitting on a fortune worth an estimated $230.5 billion as of June 2022, per Forbes. Who’s laughing at who now, huh?
4. He’s a father of eight children
Elon Musk is the proud dad of eight kids, and they’re all heirs to Musk’s meteoric legacy and fortune. With his first wife, Canadian fantasy author Justine Wilson, the couple welcomed his son Nevada, who tragically died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome at 10 months old. They then welcomed twins Griffin and Xavier Musk in April 2004, followed by triplets Kai, Saxon, and Damian Musk in January 2006.
In April 2022, Xavier Alexander Musk petitioned the Los Angeles County Superior Court in Santa Monica to legally become Vivian Jenna Wilson, citing gender identity as the reasoning in court documents, per Los Angeles Times. On June 20, they requested to drop Musk from their moniker, stating, “the fact that I no longer live with or wish to be related to my biological father in any way, shape or form.”
In addition to his children with Justine Wilson, Musk welcomed two children with the musician Grimes — son X Æ A XII or “baby x” for short in May 2020, and daughter Exa Dark Sideræl Musk via surrogate in December 2021.
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So how does the Tesla Motors CEO and SpaceX CEO and CTO juggle running two companies and raising eight kids, we wonder? “With great difficulty,” he confessed back in 2013. He also said he hopes his boys will be able to travel to other planets. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that in my lifetime,” he said. “I hope so, but it kind of depends on how long I live and how much progress we make.”
5. Dude, he’s a burner.
No, not that kind of burner. A Burning Man burner. Yes, even Richie Rich, buttoned-up corporate bigwigs dig some down and dirty debauchery in the desert from time to time. Elon Musk is no exception. He’s partied on the Playa more than a few times. Turns out he brainstormed the idea for SolarCity, which he now chairs, with his cousin whilst they tore through the Nevada desert, destination Black Rock City.
Some have speculated that Musk’s long-standing Burning Man roots in the Silver State likely played a role in his decision to launch his first Gigafactory there. Who knows.
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