How SpaceX's Elon Musk went from school geek to playboy as billionaire's string of blunders dent his 'superhero' persona

HE is the geeky billionaire who has been compared to Iron Man’s madcap inventor Tony Stark after sending a car into space and making driverless vehicles a reality.

But despite blossoming from bullied schoolboy to wealthy playboy, a string of self-inflicted blunders by Elon Musk have magnified cracks in his superhero mask.

The Tesla boss managed to wipe £10.7billion off his company with a tweet claiming the carmaker’s share price was too high in May.

He declared America — in the grip of rising coronavirus infections — would be easily rid of the disease and said panic over the pandemic was “dumb”.

Musk, 49, also raised eyebrows by claiming aliens built the Egyptian pyramids and naming his new child “X AE A-12” — with an explanation that makes less sense than the weird moniker itself.

And last month he announced he was working on a chip that would be inserted into human brains to boost intelligence, control anxiety and even stream songs.

So on Sunday, when two astronauts made the first US splashdown to Earth in 45 years, ushering in a new era of space travel, in a partnership between Musk’s firm SpaceX and Nasa, did it finally prove to his detrators that his achievements eclipsed his wild ego?


His back story reads like a classic Hollywood tale — the lonely geek with a troubled home life finds comfort from within his own brilliant mind.

Born in Pretoria, South Africa, he was bullied throughout his childhood, and once ended up in hospital after a gang of lads chucked him down stairs.

He was close to mum Maye, but clashes with his dad, Errol, got so bad he refused to discuss him in later life.

He left for Canada aged 18, then went to America, building his £54billion fortune buying and selling software firms including ­PayPal to eBay for £1.1billion in 2002.

By May 2002 he had launched ­his aerospace manufacturer and space transport firm SpaceX, before joining electric car maker Tesla in 2004.

In 2016 he founded tunnel construction firm The Boring Company, aiming to build an underground public transport system connecting US cities.

Two years later he sent a Falcon rocket, complete with a Tesla Roadster car and “Starman” mannequin driver, to cross Mars’s orbit.

His endeavours won him a legion of fans. So it’s no surprise the vain and charismatic Musk — widely believed to have had hair transplants to combat a thinning thatch — has been suggested as the inspiration behind Robert Downey Jr’s portray­al of superhero Tony Stark in 2008’s Iron Man movie.

Indeed, the Hollywood star toured the SpaceX HQ in 2007 and Musk and his space flight facility had a cameo in the 2010 sequel.

But in recent months he has tested the loyalty of his fan base — including his 37.5million Twitter followers — with his increasingly controversial, if not bizarre, outpourings.


In January 2018 his Boring Company was selling hats, fire extinguishers and flamethrowers — to protect against the “zombie apocalypse”.

In an odd pledge, Musk said the flamethrower “works against hordes of the undead — or your money back!”

That July he branded hero British diver Vernon Unsworth a “paedo guy” amid a battle to rescue 12 boys from a Thai cave after the 64-year-old dismissed Musk’s offer of a mini-submarine to help.

Then just two months later he smoked dope live on YouTube during a podcast with comic and podcaster Joe Rogan. And as the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps across America, killing more than 150,000 people so far, Musk’s proclamations have become increasingly unusual.

In early March he tweeted: “The coronavirus panic is dumb.” In an apparent effort to make him see the error of his ways, supporters dug out a quote he had tweeted in 2017, saying: “If one day, my words are against science, choose science.”

But two weeks later he drilled back down, tweeting: “Based on current trends, probably close to zero new cases in US by end of April.”

There have now been more than 4.8million cases in America and the virus is still running amok in the south and west. Musk also claimed children are “essentially immune” to Covid-19 and called for the rolling back of lockdown measures.

He defied a stay-at-home order to reopen his Tesla assembly plant in California and tweeted: “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

His efforts to urge American politicians to loosen restrictions on the country’s businesses have intensified.

Although long hailed by his supporters as a green-energy hero, he has been growing closer to President Trump, despite Trump’s hard line against the issue.


In 2017, Musk had removed himself from a presidential advisory council after Trump withdrew the US from international accords meant to address climate change.

But after Trump tweeted in support of the Tesla factory restart, Musk publicly thanked him. In April, as the pandemic gripped the US, Musk’s Trump-like tweet declared: “FREE AMERICA NOW. Give people their freedom back.”

Musk also gave rapper Kanye West his “full support” when the musician, said to be suffering a bipolar episode and barely able to concoct a coherent raft of policies, announced a bid for the White House.

His claim in May about the value of Tesla being too high was very quickly challenged.

Reporters from US business paper The Wall Street Journal asked Musk if he was joking, to which he simply replied: “No.”

Two years previously a tweet about Tesla’s future on the New York stock market led to regulators fining the firm £15million and landed him with a lawsuit.

One tweet in April this year simply read: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light of consciousness.”

Musk has also vowed to sell all his possessions — including his houses — and said his girlfriend was mad at him.

He said he would flog the Los Angeles property — formerly owned by Willy Wonka actor Gene Wilder — adding: “One stipulation on sale. It cannot be torn down or lose any of its soul.”

And last month he claimed aliens had built the Pyramids. He also revealed more details of a new start-up called Neuralink, working on a “brain-computer interface”.


People will have microchips inserted into their brains that will cure depression and addiction by “retraining” the mind. They will also supercharge thought with the help of artificial intelligence, he said.

Animal testing has already begun and he wants human trials to start this year.

The three-times-divorced CEO — accused in court by actor Johnny Depp of having an affair with actress Amber Heard — had a son with Canadian artist Grimes, real name Claire Boucher, in May. Musk confused fans by saying the boy’s name was “X Æ A-12”.

But the name was deemed illegal under California law as it contained characters not in the modern English alphabet, so it was changed to “X AE A-Xii”.

Grimes tried to clarify saying “X the unknown variable” Æ was “my elven spelling of Ai (love &/or Artificial intelligence)” and that Lockheed A-12 was “our favorite aircraft”.

In May, Musk’s SpaceX Dragon capsule, placed on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, blasted into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Americans Doug Hurley, 53, and Bob Behnken, 49, travelled to the International Space Station as part of a £2.6billion contract between SpaceX and Nasa.

It was the first attempt by a private company to send astronauts into orbit, joining only the governments of Russia, the US and China to have done so. Both astronauts safely splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday night.

Now Musk’s sights are fully set on his ultimate space aim — colonising Mars to escape World War Three, and he plans to warm up the cold planet by carpet-bombing it with nukes.

He has previously said: “Sooner or later we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball or go extinct.

“It’s important to get a self-sustaining base on Mars because it’s far enough away from Earth that (in the event of a war) it’s more likely to survive than a moon base.”

His fans will be hoping their idol doesn’t turn from hero to villain before that happens.

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