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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What otherworldly adventure will the 43-year-old visionary inventor-entrepreneur wow us with next? We’re all watching to see. Will “The Musk Who Fell to Earth” save us from ourselves? Will he save the planet, then leave it behind? Or will he fail miserably? We’ll have to wait and see. The spoiler alerts are still unwritten.
In the meantime, let’s take a voyage through some of the lesser-known facets of his fascinating life on Planet Earth. There’s much more to Musk than his “world-changing mojo.”
Here are five surprising facts about the charming 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 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.”
Musk is quite the 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 rocket scientist is 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 super hero-filled comic books and J.R.R. Tolkien epics.
He still reads books like a madman today, just not the paper kind. According to Forbes, 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.
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 reports 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.
“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."
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 U.S. Citizen, Musk boasts more than a few successful tech startups under his belt -- including one you might have heard of called PayPal. He’s a world-renowned, astronomically successful businessman, sitting on a fortune worth an estimated $13 billion and growing. Who’s laughing at who now, huh, punks?
4. He has five sons, all with kick-ass names.
Griffin, Xavier, Damian, Saxon and Kai. Lucky boys. They’re all heirs to Musk’s meteoric legacy and fortune. His brood includes twins born in 2004 and triplets born in 2006. All are from Musk’s marriage to his first wife, Canadian fantasy author Justine Wilson, whom he shares custody with. Tragically, Musk’s first son, Nevada, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome at 10 months old.
Last August, Musk’s lively brood had a little giggly fun dousing their famous dad during his cheeky, yet relatively underwhelmingly low-tech version of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
How does the Tesla Motors CEO and SpaceX CEO and CTO juggle running two companies and raising five boys, we wonder? “With great difficulty,” he confessed a couple of years back. 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.
We’d love to do some speculating of our own on what the thrillionaire bachelor partakes in at “the Burn.” But, judging by the lack of juicy details on the Internet about his dabblings at the hedonistic hippie fest, when it comes to Musk, what happens at Burning Man apparently stays at Burning Man. Whatever he does, it’s probably out of this world.