His fortune now stands at $1.5 billion more than Bezos, who has held the top spot since 2017, according to Bloomberg. Just seven months ago, Musk’s reported wealth was just a quarter of Bezos’ – no mean feat during a year in which Amazon’s shares have rocketed thanks to the decline of high street stores. Musk’s characteristically low-key response on Twitter? “How strange. Well, back to work…”
The South African business magnate’s stratospheric rise in fortune is largely thanks to last year’s more than eight-fold surge in shares of Tesla, which overtook Toyota in July to become the world’s most valuable carmaker. Its stock shot up six per cent yesterday following the Democrats’ gaining control of the Senate, with hopes that president-elect Joe Biden would give buyers of electric cars extra tax breaks.
Musk, who owns 20 per cent of Tesla’s shares, was the 35th richest person in world at the start of 2020. He launched his career as one of the co-founders of PayPal in 2000 and also owns the rocket-ship company SpaceX, which is transporting astronauts to the International Space Station in a deal with Nasa. He is currently in a relationship with the Canadian singer Grimes, with whom he has an eight-month-old (and bizarrely named) baby.
So what will he do with his newfound fortune? Musk has previously said he intends to use half his wealth to “help problems on Earth” and “half to help establish a self-sustaining city on Mars to ensure continuation of life (of all species) in case Earth gets hit by a meteor like the dinosaurs or WW3 happens & we destroy ourselves”.
In a series of tweets pinned to the top of his timeline, the billionaire said the reason why he wants lots of money was “not what you think”. He said he had “very little time for recreation” and doesn’t have “vacation homes or yachts or anything like that”.
But what else do we know the South African billionaire? From being bullied as a schoolboy to the unusual name he calls his new son, 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 Maye, 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 $188.5 billion (£136bn), $1.5 billion more than 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. Musk has never accepted a salary from Tesla – he’s opted for equity-based compensation plans instead. 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 year, Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley 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. In May last 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, Musk 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. His father 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 son 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. Musk 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. Musk’s son Xavier is named after Professor Xavier in X-Men. Tesla is named after 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”