As he prepares to celebrate his 49th birthday later this month, Elon Musk has the world — arguably the universe — at his feet.
Last week he achieved the first manned commercial spaceflight to the International Space Station , and his company Tesla leads the way in electric cars. He has a new partner and a new (bizarrely named) baby.
But how well do we know the South African billionaire? Here are 30 surprising facts about the real-life Tony Stark.
1. Musk was born in Pretoria on June 28 1971 to Errol, a wealthy South African engineer, pilot and sailor and his Maye, below, a Canadian dietician and model, on the day the US Supreme Court overturned Muhammad Ali’s conviction for evading the draft.
2. He is worth a reported $37.2 billion, roughly a quarter of the accumulated wealth of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos
3. Musk is 6’2”, eight inches taller than Bezos.
4. Musk’s IQ is estimated as 155. Jeff Bezos’s IQ is unknown.
5. His salary from Tesla is $1. When he left South Africa to study in the US, Musk lived on $1 a day, largely by buying hot dogs and oranges in bulk.
6. When Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket broke out of earth’s atmosphere last weekend, Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, below, became the 567th and 568th people to go into space (according to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale definition of spaceflight as any flight higher than 100km, or 62 miles: the US recognises some lower flights).
7. On May 1 this year nearly $15 billion was wiped off Tesla’s valuation after Musk tweeted that its stock price was “too high”.
8. His younger brother Kimbal is the owner of an American restaurant company, the Kitchen Restaurant Group; his younger sister Tosca is a filmmaker.
9. All three siblings share the middle name Reeve, although a Change.org petition was launched in 2016 suggesting that Elon should change his middle name to “Gated”. The petition gained five supporters.
10. Musk was so quiet as a boy his parents briefly believed he might be deaf.
11. He and Kimbal and their cousins made pocket money as children selling homemade chocolate Easter eggs door-to-door in rich neighbourhoods.
12. Reportedly, he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica aged nine and he was a huge Dungeons and Dragons fan. Unfortunately, if he ever writes his autobiography, he can’t call it Nerd Do Well, the title of Simon Pegg’s.
13. As the youngest and smallest boy in his primary school class, Musk suffered horrendous bullying. He was hospitalised after a gang of boys pushed him down a flight of stairs and said he was “almost beaten to death” on one occasion. At 15, He learned karate, judo and wrestling and the bullying ceased.
14. Errol Musk was once tried for manslaughter and acquitted after shooting dead three men who attempted to break into his Johannesburg mansion.
15. In 2017 Errol had a boy with his stepdaughter Jana Bezuidenhout, 40 years his junior, some years after divorcing her mother Heidi. Elon has described his father as “evil” and they are estranged.
16. Elon taught himself to write computer code at the age of 12, creating a video game called Blastar which he sold for $500 to PC and Office Technology magazine.
17. Musk met his first wife, sci-fi writer Justine Wilson, when they were students at Ontario’s Queen’s University and they married in 2000. After the death of their first child, Nevada, from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome at the age of 10 weeks in 2002, they conceived twins Griffin and Xavier in 2004, and then triplets Kai, Saxon and Damian in 2006, through IVF.
18. Xavier is named after Professor Xavier in X-Men. Tesla is named for Serbian-American inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla; had Tesla failed to secure the rights to the name, Musk claims the company would have been called Faraday, after British scientist Michael Faraday, who was born in what is now Elephant and Castle in 1791. SpaceX’s Falcon rockets are named after the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.
19. After gaining degrees in economics and physics from the University of Pennsylvania, Musk enrolled on a postgraduate degree in physics at Stanford but dropped out after two days to ride the wave of the dotcom boom.
20. He sold his first software company Zip2, which he co-founded with Kimbal, for more than $300 million in 1999 and the same year co-founded online bank X.com, which went on to become PayPal. In 2002 eBay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion. He founded SpaceX in 2002 and joined Tesla in 2004 as chairman, having helped fund the company. He has since founded AI and neuroscience companies and a tunnelling business called The Boring Company to dig tubes aimed at improving the movement of cars and creating a new high-speed public transport system called the Hyperloop. “I think public transport is painful. It sucks,” he told Wired.
21. He allegedly once told a potential investor: “My mentality is that of a samurai. I would rather commit seppuku [ritually disembowel himself] than fail.”
22. Musk agreed to serve on two business councils for Donald Trump in 2017 but resigned from both the same year in protest at Trump withdrawing the US from the Paris agreement on climate change.
23. Robert Downey Jr famously based his portrayal of Tony “Iron Man” Stark in the Marvel Avengers movies on Musk. However, Stan Lee originally based Tony Stark on Howard Hughes, whom he described as “an inventor, an adventurer, a multi-billionaire, a ladies’ man, and finally a nutcase”.
24. Musk makes a cameo appearance in Iron Man 2 and has also appeared as himself in The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory and South Park.
25. In 2013 Musk bought “Wet Nellie”, the customised Lotus Esprit from the 1976 Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, which he said was an inspiration for Tesla cars.
26. The launch of the Tesla Cybertruck took place on November 2019, the month and year in which Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is set.
27. In 2018 Musk used his own Tesla sportscar as the payload for the successful launch of his Falcon Heavy rocket, with a dummy called Starman in the driving seat, with Bowie’s Space Oddity and Life on Mars on the hi-fi. The car is now in orbit around the sun. You can track it on whereisroadster.com, which also notes that the car has exceeded its 36,000-mile warranty over 31,000 times.
28. Musk was made a Member of the Most Admirable Order of Direkgunabhorn (fifth class) by the King of Thailand for his efforts to free 12 boys trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave in 2018, with a mini-submarine (although this was somewhat overshadowed by a dispute with British caver Vernon Unsworth, an adviser on the rescue, in which he called Unsworth a “pedo guy” on Twitter). Musk later won the defamation case.
29. Musk met his second wife, actress Tallulah Riley, in Mayfair’s Whisky Mist nightclub in 2008, and proposed to her the same year. They married in 2010, divorced in 2012, remarried in 2013 and divorced again in 2016.
30. Although Musk and his current partner, the singer Grimes, called their baby boy X Æ A-12 (later modifying it to X Æ A-Xii to comply with California’s legal guidelines), they apparently refer to him as “Little X”