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Unusual facts about unusual billionaire Elon Musk

Musk the maverick

<p>Theo Wargo/Shutterstock</p>

Theo Wargo/Shutterstock

Elon Musk, the sometimes-reckless tech and space pioneer, is no stranger to controversy and drama. He's currently the third richest man in the world with a stunning net worth of around $193 billion (£154bn), according to Forbes. But juggernaut bank balance aside, who's the real Elon Musk?

From his early start in coding to his influence over the world's most powerful people, read on to discover 26 surprising facts you might not know about the billionaire. All dollar amounts are in US dollars.

1. He learnt to code at 10

<p>Courtesy Blastar Appspot</p>

Courtesy Blastar Appspot

The young Musk's intelligence was evident early on when he took up computer programming at the tender age of 10.

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By the time he was 12, he'd developed a video game called Blastar (pictured) and sold the game's code to a computer magazine for around $500 (the equivalent of $1.5k/£1.2k in 2024). The game is still available to play online today.

2. He dropped out of Stanford for his first start-up

<p>Paul Sakuma/PA</p>

Paul Sakuma/PA

Musk took his first big risk when he dropped out of his PhD at the prestigious Stanford University after just a few days of studying. Instead of continuing his education, he decided to devote more time to his first start-up, Zip2 Corporation, which created online city guides for news organisations.

The gamble paid off. When the company was purchased by the Compaq Computer Corporation in 1999, 28-year-old Musk reportedly walked away with a cool $19 million, around $36 million (£29m) in today's money.

Quick to build on his success, Musk's next venture was an electronic payments start-up called X.com, which he founded using a sizeable chunk of his newly acquired wealth. That investment was spectacularly successful as the company, which rebranded to PayPal in 2001, was acquired by eBay for a reported $1.5 billion in 2002. Musk netted a colossal $180 million from the sale, which works out at over $320 million (£256m) in today's money.

3. He's built space rockets

<p>Paul Sakuma/PA</p>

Paul Sakuma/PA

By the early 2000s, Musk had become one of the world's most influential business figures. While PayPal's success was undeniable, Musk had his eye on other pursuits, specifically rockets and space exploration.

Having founded SpaceX in 2002, his first challenge in reaching space was sourcing the rockets to get there. After deciding they were too expensive in the US, Musk showed his maverick side when he came close to buying three intercontinental ballistic missiles from Russia, with plans to convert them.

However, he eventually decided to build the rockets himself. In 2009, SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket became the first privately developed vehicle to put a satellite into orbit.

4. He sent his car into orbit

<p>Courtesy SpaceX/Flickr</p>

Courtesy SpaceX/Flickr

On 6 February 2018, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful operational rocket in the world, blasted off on its maiden voyage.

According to reports, the Falcon Heavy can lift a mass equivalent to five double-decker buses (complete with passengers, luggage, and fuel) into orbit. The mega-rocket has been designed to carry people and is part of Musk’s plans for human space travel.

However, for its experimental debut mission back in 2018, Musk decided on a much lighter load: his old cherry-red Tesla sports car. A space-suited mannequin nicknamed "Starman" was strapped into the driver's seat, and the car's radio was set up to play David Bowie's Life on Mars on repeat. The rocket overshot its intended orbit of Mars, but the ambitious launch generated headlines across the world.

5. He wants to open pizza joints on Mars

<p>NASA/Handout/Getty Images</p>

NASA/Handout/Getty Images

Musk had more success in 2020 when SpaceX worked with NASA to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) (pictured).

Musk's ultimate cosmic ambitions are still far greater than anything he's achieved so far. A paper written by Musk and published in the New Space journal outlined his plans for colonising Mars, including a fleet of spacecraft carrying hundreds of passengers to and from the Red Planet, and homes and "pizza joints" being built before the end of the century.

Musk has previously indicated that he plans to spend half his wealth on helping improve things on Earth and the other half on establishing human life on Mars.

6. He went from Tesla shareholder to CEO

<p>Paul Sakuma/PA</p>

Paul Sakuma/PA

While his space exploration company was still finding its feet, Musk got involved in another huge project: Tesla. It's often assumed that Musk founded Tesla, but the automotive giant was actually launched by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in 2003.

Musk became a significant shareholder shortly afterwards and eventually became the company's CEO in 2008. Tesla's first car, the Tesla Roadster, was launched that same year and sold around 2,400 models in 30 countries, impressive numbers for electric car sales at the time.

Reports suggest that even Donald Trump has a Roadster in his fleet of motor vehicles.

7. He's behind the world's largest building

<p>Maurizio Pesce/Wikimedia Commons</p>

Maurizio Pesce/Wikimedia Commons

Tesla's first "gigafactory" officially opened in Nevada in 2016, and construction work on the facility continues to this day.

Once it's completed, the physical footprint of the factory is tipped to make it the largest building in the world, and it's become the driving force behind Tesla's ability to ship its electric car to the mass market.

Gigafactories have also been built in Berlin, Texas, California, Shanghai, and New York.

8. He wants to launch a new mode of transport

<p>Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images</p>

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

You might think that SpaceX and Tesla are more than enough to keep Musk on his toes, but he does have other plans up his sleeve. "We have planes, trains, automobiles, and boats... What if there was a fifth mode?" Musk mused about travel in July 2012 before unveiling plans for his Hyperloop transportation system the following year.

His visionary new approach to getting from A to B would see pods sent hurtling through a vacuumed tube at lightning speeds – for example, the four-hour journey between LA and San Francisco would be slashed to around 30 minutes. Key to the plan is a network of tunnels, so it's no surprise that Musk set up a firm dedicated to boring holes in the ground. The Boring Company (get it?) was founded in 2016 and quickly set to work tunnelling under the Las Vegas Convention Center.

So far, the Hyperloop project has had limited success – perhaps because Musk and his engineers have been entertaining themselves with dangerous gadgets instead. In January 2018, The Boring Company developed its controversial "flamethrower". Comprising a blowtorch shaped like a gun, 20,000 of them were made available for pre-order. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they'd all sold out by the end of the month.

9. He's released his own fragrance

<p>Courtesy The Boring Company</p>

Courtesy The Boring Company

With a name like his, it was only going to be a matter of time before Musk released his own fragrance. Less expected was the billionaire's choice to name his debut scent Burnt Hair – and the decision to give it precisely that scent.

In typical Musk fashion, he took to Twitter (now called X) to announce the launch of the product in October 2022, describing Burnt Hair as the "finest fragrance on Earth". The fragrance is also summed up as "the essence of repugnant desire" (who could resist?) on The Boring Company's website.

As well as having a scent that might raise eyebrows, the price tag is somewhat eye-watering, with bottles selling for $100 (£80). The first batch of the perfume completely sold out, reportedly making Musk more than $1 million (£800k) in just a few hours.

10. He put a chip in a pig's brain

<p>Aggie 11/Shutterstock</p>

Aggie 11/Shutterstock

In August 2020, Musk introduced Gertrude the pig to the world, the main test subject of one of his most controversial projects yet.

Gertrude had a computer chip implanted in her brain, with the wireless device developed to collect data from more than 1,000 of her neurons. While the project has enjoyed success, animal rights groups such as PETA have expressed concerns about the welfare of the animals involved in the experiments.

The research was carried out by Musk's neurotech company, Neuralink, which is developing technology to adjust neural firing patterns. The ultimate goal is to cure disorders stemming from the brain, including Parkinson's disease and dementia.

11. He successfully implanted a brain-chip into a human

<p>Courtesy Neuralink</p>

Courtesy Neuralink

In September 2023, Neuralink received approval to start human trials. By early 2024, the company had successfully implanted a brain chip in a human patient. Elon Musk reported that the procedure was successful, with the patient now fully recovered and able to control a computer mouse using their thoughts.

The patient, 29-year-old Noland Arbaugh, who is paralyzed below the shoulders, has since demonstrated the remarkable ability to play online chess on his laptop and move the cursor using his mind, all thanks to the Neuralink implant.

It seems the future has arrived!

12. He's planning big changes at X (formerly known as Twitter)

<p>Chesnot/Getty Images</p>

Chesnot/Getty Images

In October 2022, Elon Musk sensationally snapped up Twitter in a $44 billion (£35bn) deal, one of his biggest business moves to date. He rebranded the social media platform to X, but this is far from the only controversial change he plans to make at the company.

In a livestreamed conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2023, Musk revealed that X is "moving to having a small, monthly payment for use of the X system".

He further claimed that the social media site has 550 million monthly users.

13. He's a controversial tweeter (part 1)

<p>Courtesy @elonmusk/Twitter</p>

Courtesy @elonmusk/Twitter

Talking of X, Musk has long been a controversial figure on the social media platform – but March 2020 saw him take things to another level.

He took to what was then Twitter to declare that "the coronavirus panic is dumb", just five days before the World Health Organization declared the global outbreak of the infectious disease to be a pandemic.

A few weeks later, he sparked further fury when he tweeted that "kids are essentially immune" to the virus despite clear evidence to the contrary.

13. He's a controversial tweeter (part 2)

<p>Courtesy @elonmusk/Twitter</p>

Courtesy @elonmusk/Twitter

In another controversial post on the social media platform, Musk claimed in May 2020 that Tesla's stock price was too high, causing it to fall immediately and wipe nearly $15 billion (£12bn) off the company's valuation in a single day.

Shares were $760 (£613) at the time and fell by about 10%. However, his comment didn't do any lasting damage, with Tesla overtaking Toyota to become the world's most valuable automaker weeks later.

In fact, one year on from Musk's share-slashing tweet, Tesla was worth more than Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, GM, and Ford combined.

14. He confessed to owning X "burner" accounts

<p>Arturo Holmes/Getty Images</p>

Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

Musk's controversial activities on social media once again came under scrutiny earlier this year, during a libel deposition in which he admitted to having two secret X accounts, known as "burner" accounts.

This deposition coincides with Musk being sued over a series of tweets from last June, in which he claimed that a 22-year-old Jewish man named Ben Brody had participated in a neo-Nazi rally as an undercover agent provocateur. Brody is seeking damages for harassment and threats he suffered as a result of Musk's tweets.

Musk confessed to owning one test account that he rarely uses and a "side" account from which he anonymously tweets more regularly. While the court transcript referred to one account as "baby smoke 9,000," it appears to be a misnomer for @babysmurf9000, an account that has shown signs of affiliation with Mr. Musk. The identity of the other suspected account, @ermnmusk, was confirmed by court exhibits reviewed by HuffPost.

15. He's prone to self-sabotage

<p>Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty</p>

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

Musk tweeting that Tesla's stock price was too high wasn't the first time he'd shot himself in the foot. In fact, the eccentric billionaire seems to have a talent for self-sabotage.

In September 2018, he apparently enjoyed a joint on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, resulting in outrage – and another fall in Tesla's stock value.

More recently, Musk has described his Tesla gigafactories as "gigantic money furnaces", claiming they're losing billions of dollars as a result of supply chain issues and EV battery shortages.

16. He's had a turbulent love life

<p>Scott Ohlson/Getty Images</p>

Scott Ohlson/Getty Images

In 2000, Musk married Justine Wilson, with whom he shares six kids. The pair divorced in 2008.

Musk then married the English actress Talulah Riley (shown together here) in 2010. The couple divorced in 2012, remarried in 2013, and ended things for good in October 2016, with Riley later describing their marriage as "quite hard, quite the crazy ride".

Soon after his divorce, Musk started an on-off relationship with actress Amber Heard, and more recently, his love life has centred around Canadian singer Grimes. But it appears that relationship hasn't worked out either. In September 2021, Musk confirmed that the pair had separated. They soon reunited, but just a few months later it was seemingly over once more, with Grimes announcing their split – where else? – on Twitter.

17. He's doing his part to help the "underpopulation crisis"

<p>Elon Musk / X</p>

Elon Musk / X

In an eyebrow-raising statement posted on X, Musk once said: "Doing my best to help the underpopulation crisis. A collapsing birth rate is the biggest danger civilization faces by far." The quirky businessman certainly wasn't joking, as he has fathered 11 children that we know of.

Musk welcomed Nevada, Griffin, Vivian, Kai, Saxon, and Damian between 2000 and 2006 with his first wife, Justine Wilson. Tragically, his firstborn son, Nevada, died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) at just 10 weeks old.

He also shares three children with Grimes. X Æ A-12 was born in 2020, while Exa Dark Sideræl was born via surrogate in 2021. Walter Isaacon's new biography of the billionaire revealed the couple have a third child named Techno Mechanicus.

It's not known when Musk and Grimes welcomed Techno Mechanicus, or if they're romantically involved again. The singer has previously described their relationship as "fluid". However, Grimes recently filed a legal petition over parental rights of the three children she shares with the billionaire.

And in a surprising turn of events, it emerged last year that Musk had secretly fathered twins named Azure and Strider with Neuralink director Shivon Zilis. The twins were born in November 2021, while the nature of Zilis and Musk's relationship is unknown.

18. His son's name broke the law

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty Images for the Huffington Post</p>

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for the Huffington Post

On 4 May 2020, Musk and Grimes announced the birth of their first son. As already mentioned, the couple gave the child a rather unusual name: X Æ A-12.

At the time, Grimes shared the meaning of the unorthodox choice, telling her Twitter followers that "X" stands for "the unknown variable", while "Æ" is the elven spelling of AI (signifying both love and artificial intelligence).

The "A-12" element is a nod to the Lockheed A-12 aircraft, an aircraft loved by the couple as it has "no weapons, no defenses, just speed". Finally, the "A" on its own refers to Archangel, Grimes's favourite song.

Later that month, the child's name was tweaked slightly, with "A-12" replaced by "A-Xii". Using Roman numerals meant the name complied with Californian law, which states you can only use the 26 letters of the alphabet in a baby's name, with Grimes noting via an Instagram post that the new spelling "looks better".

19. He launched a school

<p>Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Stringer/Shutterstock</p>

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Stringer/Shutterstock

Not satisfied with conventional schools, Musk set up his own in 2014. Alongside teacher Joshua Dahn, he co-founded the Ad Astra School in LA, initially starting it in a conference room at SpaceX.

Pupils at the small establishment studied a curriculum that centred around AI, engineering, and ethics. Subjects such as sports, music, and foreign languages weren't taught, and work wasn't graded.

However, the school shut down in 2020 and has since been replaced by the online-only Astra Nova. According to the official website, "Ad Astra was the school we created at SpaceX that served 50 students; Astra Nova is the online school that reaches millions."

20. He inspired the Iron Man movies

<p>Denis Poroy/PA</p>

Denis Poroy/PA

Musk has become one of the most infamous mavericks in contemporary culture, as demonstrated when actor Robert Downey Jr. turned to him for inspiration after landing the lead role of superhero Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies.

The SpaceX factory was actually used as a filming location for the Hollywood blockbusters, with Musk even making a brief cameo in Iron Man 2.

But that's not Musk's only foray in front of the camera. He's appeared as himself in numerous movies and TV shows, including action flick Machete Kills, comedy Why Him?, and sitcoms The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon. Meanwhile, he's voiced himself in hit animated shows such as The SimpsonsRick and Morty, and South Park.

And in May 2021, the tech billionaire even hosted Saturday Night Live, becoming the first non-actor or athlete to take on the prestigious presenting gig since Donald Trump in 2015.

21. He plays Dungeons & Dragons

<p>Niferure / Shutterstock</p>

Niferure / Shutterstock

Musk is a fan of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), with his cousin Peter Rive claiming the tabletop role-playing game brings out the best parts of the tycoon's personality.

Rive told Elon Musk's biographer Walter Isaacson that "even as a kid, Elon had a whole bunch of different demeanours and moods" but said his personality changed for the better while playing D&D.

According to Rive, Musk usually played as the Dungeon Master, the lead storyteller and referee of the game. "As Dungeon Master, he was incredibly patient, which is not, in my experience, always his default personality, if you know what I mean", Rive explained. "It happens sometimes, and it's so beautiful when it does."

22. He recently launched an AI company

<p>Maja Hitij/Getty Images</p>

Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Last year, Musk launched another new company, artificial intelligence firm xAI, which aims to "understand the true nature of the universe".

After incorporating xAI in Nevada back in March 2023, Musk reportedly wasted little time acquiring 10,000 graphics processing units (GPUs). For the uninitiated, GPUs are the hardware devices needed to develop and operate advanced AI systems.

While the funding story behind the company is unclear, the Financial Times reported the following month that Musk had discussed getting funding from investors in his other businesses. Recruits at xAI include former staff from leading tech firms such as Tesla, Microsoft, and DeepMind.

Musk previously helped co-found OpenAI, the AI venture that's perhaps best known for developing ChatGPT. He was one of several influential tech giants who helped finance the company back in 2015 and was reportedly on track to donate around $1 billion (£821m). However, he pulled out in 2018 and has since openly criticised the firm for shifting from a not-for-profit to a for-profit business model.

23. He believes AI could endanger humans

<p>Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock</p>

Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock

Musk may have founded an AI company, but he's also famous for his warnings about the potential danger that artificial intelligence poses to humanity. He believes that humans may become reliant on AI over time and has even predicted a future in which humanity could be subordinate to machines.

During an interview with Tucker Carlson earlier this year, Musk claimed that "AI is more dangerous than, say, mismanaged aircraft design or production maintenance or bad car production", adding that "it has the potential of civilization destruction".

Musk has advocated for caution in creating AI and even signed an open letter backing a temporary suspension of its development in March 2023. He's also criticised other tech billionaires, including Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, for having a limited understanding of the subject.

24. He has Asperger's syndrome

<p>Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock</p>

Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock

In recent times, Musk has opened up about having Asperger's syndrome, a neurodevelopmental condition where those diagnosed have difficulties with social interactions and tend to display restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour.

Speaking about his Asperger's at the TED2022 conference, Musk explained that "social cues were not intuitive" when he was growing up, revealing: "I would just tend to take things very literally but then that turned out to be wrong. [People were not] simply saying exactly what they mean, there's all sorts of other things that are meant, and [it] took me a while to figure that out."

When asked if there could be a link between his condition and his business success, he said it was "certainly possible", admitting: "I found it rewarding to spend all night programming computers, just by myself. But I think that is not normal."

Many find it inspiring that Musk has been so honest about his condition, as research has found that most adults with invisible differences such as Asperger's try to hide them in the workplace to avoid discrimination.

25. He has influence with world leaders

<p>Victor Velter / Shutterstock</p>

Victor Velter / Shutterstock

As well as being the richest man in the world, Elon Musk is also one of the most influential. In 2023 alone, he met with numerous foreign leaders, including the heads of France, Italy, India, South Korea, Turkey, and Israel.

Some world leaders that have met with Musk are seeking an economic boost from a new Tesla factory or an infrastructure investment from SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet services, while others have met with the tech mogul to discuss the future of AI. French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured), for example, has designs on a new Tesla gigafactory in his country.

However, Musk's growing influence in the geopolitical sphere has caused alarm in some quarters. According to Walter Isaacson's biography, Musk ordered his Starlink satellite communications network to be turned off near the Crimean coast in 2022 to prevent a Ukrainian drone attack on Russian warships. Russian President Vladimir Putin has since hailed Musk as an “outstanding person”.

Musk also appears to be taking a more active interest in political issues and has recently waded into Germany's migration debate, before visiting the US-Mexico border to get an "unfiltered view" of the situation.

26. He owns a Bond car

<p>Giannis Papanikos / Shutterstock</p>

Giannis Papanikos / Shutterstock

Some critics have compared the controversial Musk to a real-life James Bond villain, so it's little surprise that he actually owns a car from the spy thriller franchise.

In 2013, he snapped up the Lotus Esprit car (pictured) driven by James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me, purchasing it for around $895,000 (£736k) in today's money. Speaking of his fondness for the car, Musk said: "It was amazing as a little kid in South Africa to watch James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me drive his Lotus Esprit off a pier, press a button, and have it transform into a submarine underwater.

He added: "I was disappointed to learn that it can't actually transform."

The billionaire joked that he was going to "upgrade [the car] with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real". It's unclear whether or not this idea became a reality – but we wouldn't put anything past him.

Now find out how long it took these people to become billionaires