Elon Musk regained the title of 'world's richest man.' Here's how the billionaire went from getting bullied as a child to becoming one of the most successful and controversial men in tech.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter. So far, his decisions at Twitter have drawn both criticism and support.
He was born in South Africa, has been married three times, and has nine known children.
Musk is a controversial leader who has incited lawsuits and SEC investigations.
This is an update to an article originally published in August 2016. Katie Canales, Matt Weinberger, and Mary Meisenzahl contributed to an earlier version of this story.
Elon Musk was born on June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa.
Musk's mother, Maye, is a professional dietitian and model. She has appeared on boxes of Special K cereal and the cover of Time magazine. In 2017, at the age of 69, she landed a contract with CoverGirl.
Source: The New York Times
After their parents divorced in 1979, the 9-year-old Musk and his younger brother, Kimbal, decided to live with their father. It wasn't until after the move was made that his notoriously troubled relationship with his dad began to emerge. "It was not a good idea," Musk said in a Rolling Stone interview about moving in with his father.
Source: Rolling Stone
In 1983, at the age of 12, Musk sold a simple game called "Blastar" to a computer magazine for $500. Musk described it as "a trivial game ... but better than Flappy Bird."
Still, Musk's school days weren't easy — he was once hospitalized after being beaten by bullies. The bullies threw Musk down a set of stairs and beat him until he blacked out.
Source: "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future"
After graduating from high school, Musk moved to Canada with his mother, Maye; his sister, Tosca, and his brother, Kimbal, and spent two years studying at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.
Source: Queen's University
But he finished his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in physics and economics.
While studying at the University of Pennsylvania, Musk and a classmate rented out a 10-bedroom frat house and turned it into a nightclub. The move, which Musk undertook with Adeo Ressi, was one of his first entrepreneurial experiments.
After graduation, Musk traveled to Stanford University to study for his Ph.D — but he barely started the program before leaving it. He deferred his admission after only two days in California, deciding to test his luck in the dot-com boom that was just getting underway. He never returned to finish his studies at Stanford.
With his brother, Kimbal, Elon Musk launched Zip2. A cluster of Silicon Valley investors helped to fund the company, which provided city travel guides to newspapers like The New York Times and Chicago Tribune.
Source: Rolling Stone
While Zip2 got off the ground, Musk literally lived in the office and showered at a local YMCA. The hard work paid off when Compaq bought Zip2 in a deal worth $341 million in cash and stock, earning Musk $22 million.
Source: Stanford University
Musk next started X.com, an online banking company. He launched the company in 1999 using $10 million of the money he got from the Zip2 sale. About a year later, X.com merged with Confinity, a financial startup cofounded by Peter Thiel, to form PayPal.
Musk was named the CEO of the newly minted PayPal — but it wouldn't last long. In October 2000, he started a huge fight among the PayPal cofounders by pushing for them to move its servers from the free Unix operating system to Microsoft Windows. PayPal cofounder and then CTO Max Levchin pushed back, hard.
While Musk was en route to Australia for a much-needed vacation, PayPal's board fired him and made Thiel the new CEO. "That's the problem with vacations," Musk told Fortune years later about his ill-fated trip in late 2000.
But things worked out for Musk — he made another windfall when eBay bought PayPal in late 2002. As PayPal's single biggest shareholder, he netted $165 million of the $1.5 billion price eBay paid.
Even before the PayPal sale, Musk was dreaming up his next move, including a wild plan to send mice or plants to Mars. In early 2002, Musk founded the company that would be known as Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, with $100 million of the money received from the PayPal sale. Musk's goal was to make spaceflight cheaper by a factor of 10.
Source: Rolling Stone
One early SpaceX vehicle was named after the song "Puff the Magic Dragon." The name of the spacecraft, the Dragon, was Musk's jab at skeptics who told him SpaceX would never be able to put vehicles into space.
Source: Elon Musk/Twitter
SpaceX's long-term goal is to make colonizing Mars affordable. Musk has said that SpaceX won't file for an initial public offering until what Musk calls the "Mars Colonial Transporter" is flying regularly.
Musk had also been keeping plenty busy here on Earth, particularly with Tesla Motors. In 2004, Musk made the first of what would be $70 million of total investments in Tesla, an electric car company cofounded by veteran startup exec Martin Eberhard.
Musk took an active product role at Tesla, helping develop its first car, the Roadster. The all-electric Roadster debuted in 2006 when Musk was serving as Tesla's chairman. He's now also its CEO.
As if that wasn't enough, Musk came up with the idea for SolarCity, a solar energy company. Musk gave his cousins Peter and Lyndon Rive the working capital to get SolarCity off the ground in 2006. (In late 2016, Tesla bought SolarCity in a $2.6 billion deal.)
Source: VentureBeat, Insider
In 2007, Musk staged a boardroom coup at Tesla, first ousting Eberhard from his CEO seat and then from the company's board and executive suites entirely.
In 2008, with the financial crisis seriously limiting his options, Musk personally saved Tesla from bankruptcy. Musk invested $40 million in Tesla and loaned the company $40 million more. Not coincidentally, he was named the company's CEO the same year.
But between SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity, Musk nearly went broke. He describes 2008 as "the worst year of my life." Tesla kept losing money, and SpaceX was having trouble launching its Falcon 1 rocket. By 2009, Musk was living off personal loans just to survive.
Musk's personal life was in upheaval too: Musk and his wife Justine, a Canadian author, got divorced in 2008. The couple got married in 2000 — their first son, Nevada, died of SIDS at 10 weeks old (the Musks later went on to have twin and triplet boys).
Source: Marie Claire
Musk started dating actress Talulah Riley later that year. They went on to get married in 2010, then divorced in 2012. In July 2013, they remarried. In December 2014, Musk filed for a divorce but withdrew the paperwork. In March 2016, Riley filed for divorce; that divorce was finalized in October.
Source: Vanity Fair
Right around Christmas 2008, Musk got two pieces of good news: SpaceX had landed a $1.5 billion contract with NASA to deliver supplies into space, and Tesla finally found more outside investors.
Source: Ars Technica
By June 2010, Tesla held a successful initial public offering. The company raised $226 million in the IPO, becoming the first car company to go public since Ford in 1956. To get his finances back on track, Musk sold shares worth about $15 million in the offering.
Musk's career was starting to get noticed in other circles, too, most notably in Hollywood. Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark in the "Iron Man" movies is at least partially based on Musk. Musk even had a cameo in "Iron Man 2."
By the end of 2015, SpaceX had made 24 launches on assignments like resupplying the International Space Station, setting lots of records along the way. In 2016, the SpaceX Falcon 9 made the first successful ocean landing of a reusable orbital rocket.
Source: The Verge
The Falcon Heavy, the successor to the Falcon 9 and the most powerful rocket SpaceX has built to date, completed a successful maiden launch in February 2018. The Falcon Heavy carried a unique payload: a dummy dubbed "Starman," and Musk's personal cherry red Tesla Roadster, which were launched toward Martian orbit.
Musk can't stop coming up with new ideas, either, like the Hyperloop. A super-high-speed train that travels in a vacuum tube, the Hyperloop could theoretically transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.
In a similar vein, Musk started another company in 2016 — The Boring Company, which has a mission to dig a network of tunnels under and around cities for high-speed, no-traffic driving. The Boring Company's first tunnel network for commercial use, located in Las Vegas, opened in April 2021.
And in late 2015, Musk cofounded OpenAI, a nonprofit dedicated to researching artificial intelligence and ensuring it doesn't destroy humanity. He later announced that he would step down from the board to avoid any potential conflicts of interest with Tesla, which has made strides into artificial intelligence for its self-driving car technology.
Musk founded one more company, this one in 2017: Neuralink, which is trying to build devices that can be implanted inside the human brain.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Musk dated "Aquaman" actress Amber Heard, but the two broke up in 2017 after a year of dating. Musk later said in an interview with Rolling Stone that the breakup was very hard on him.
Source: Rolling Stone
The year was a bit rocky from a political standpoint as well. Musk joined President Trump's business advisory council, a move that caused a huge public backlash. He initially defended the move, but he quit after Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Musk said he tried to convince Trump not to withdraw.
In the spring of 2018, there was a new development in Musk's personal life — he and the musician Grimes struck up a relationship. They reportedly hit it off after they both made the same nerdy joke about artificial intelligence.
Musk ran into some trouble in 2018 when he sent a tweet declaring he was considering taking Tesla private at $420 per share and had already secured funding. Just a few days later, the SEC sent Tesla subpoenas about the company's plans to go private and Musk's comments.
By September, the SEC had formally filed a lawsuit against Musk, accusing him of making "false and misleading statements." Musk settled with the SEC, which resulted in both him and Tesla paying a $20 million fine and Musk agreeing to step down as chairman of Tesla's board. Additionally, Tesla was required to appoint a committee to oversee Musk's communications.
In November 2019, Musk debuted a new Tesla vehicle: the Cybertruck, Tesla's first — and very highly anticipated — pickup truck. Since the unveiling, Musk has been spotted a few times cruising around in the truck, including on a night out to dinner at Nobu with Grimes.
One month later, Musk won a victory in court when a jury ruled he was not guilty of defaming the British diver Vernon Unsworth. Unsworth had filed a defamation lawsuit in 2018 after Musk called him a "pedo guy" on Twitter.
Grimes dropped a bombshell in January 2020 when she posted a photo of herself where she appeared pregnant. The musician later confirmed that she was expecting a baby with Musk.
Musk has been outspoken about the coronavirus crisis in the US since early March 2020 when he first tweeted that panic over the virus was "dumb." Since then, he's tweeted misinformation about the virus and called US shelter-in-place orders "fascist."
Despite having a substantial real estate portfolio, Musk recently said that he "will own no house" and would sell almost all of his physical possessions. He has since reportedly sold several of his California properties.
On May 4, 2020, Grimes gave birth to a baby boy who the couple named X Æ A-Xii Musk, or "X Ash A-12 Musk." The couple calls him "X" for short.
SpaceX had two major milestones in 2020: First, in May, SpaceX partnered with NASA to complete its first launch of astronauts into space. Then, in November, SpaceX completed its first "operational" human spaceflight by sending four astronauts to the International Space Station for a six-month stay.
Tesla also had a good year: It joined the S&P 500 in December, which caused its stock to soar, and the company's market value reached over $894 billion.
Source: Markets Insider
In late 2020, Musk announced that he had moved to Texas over a spat with the state of California over coronavirus lockdowns. He's since said he wants to create a city around SpaceX's launch facilities known as "Starbase."
In May 2021, Musk hosted "Saturday Night Live" for the first time. Grimes and his mother, Maye, both made appearances on the show.
In September 2021, Page Six reported that Musk and Grimes had broken up after three years of dating. He said at the time that they were "semi-separated" but still loved each other and "are on great terms."
Musk's longtime spat with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos reached new heights as SpaceX and Bezos' rival company, Blue Origin, have bickered over NASA contracts and their competing satellite projects. When Musk surpassed Bezos to become the world's richest person, he taunted Bezos with the silver-medal emoji.
Source: Insider, Insider, Insider
In March 2022, the world found out Musk had his first daughter, Exa Dark Sideræl Musk, with Grimes via a surrogate. The baby was born in December 2021.
Source: Insider, Vanity Fair
Grimes says she and Musk aren't back together, but their relationship is "very fluid," and they plan to have more children together.
In April 2022, Musk became Twitter's largest stakeholder, buying up 9.2% of the company.
After initially resisting a purchase attempt, Twitter officially accepted an offer from Musk to buy the company for $44 billion on April 25, 2022.
However, on May 13, 2022, Musk tweeted that his deal to buy Twitter was "temporarily on hold" while he investigated how many of Twitter's comprise bots and fake accounts. Twitter management had claimed it is less than 5%.
That same month, Insider reported that a flight attendant for SpaceX was paid $250,000 to settle a sexual misconduct claim against Musk in 2018. The flight attendant accused Musk of exposing himself to her during a massage. Musk has denied wrongdoing and told Insider there is "a lot more to this story."
In July 2022, Insider reported that Musk had twins with one of his top executives, Shivon Zilis, in November 2021, just weeks before Musk and Grimes had their second child together via surrogate. Zilis works for Neuralink, where Musk is co-CEO.
Musk has tweeted about the falling birthrate in the US and what he calls the "underpopulation crisis," saying he is "doing my part." Musk also announced plans in July 2022 to increase childcare benefits at his companies.
In July, Musk attempted to pull the plug on his deal to buy Twitter via a letter from his lawyer. The letter cited multiple attempts by Musk to try to get more information about the number of fake and spam accounts using Twitter.
As a result, Twitter sued Musk to enforce his original agreement to buy the company. Musk countersued, kicking off a months-long legal battle.
Musk's war with Twitter management finally ended when the billionaire offered to go ahead and buy Twitter at the originally agreed-upon price of $44 billion. The trial between Musk and Twitter had been set to begin in a matter of weeks.
Source: The New York Times
Elon Musk officially closed the deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion, becoming the owner of the social platform in late October. His first act was to fire Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal and a number of other top executives at the company.
Musk's tenure at Twitter got off to a controversial start. He introduced a plan to start charging users $8 a month for a "blue check," altering the company's verification process. He has also laid off roughly 50% of its staff and allowed formerly banned accounts back onto the platform, including former President Donald Trump.
In December 2022, Musk was de-throned as the world's richest man amid an epic decline in Tesla's stock price. LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault surpassed Musk on both the Forbes' Billionaires List and the Bloomberg Billionaire Index.
In fact, Musk lost more than $100 billion in 2022, breaking the Guinness World Record for the "largest loss of personal fortune in history."
As Musk strived to make Twitter more profitable, he reportedly failed to pay rent on multiple Twitter offices. He is reportedly being sued by Twitter's San Francisco landlord and King Charles III's Crown Estate, which manages the company's London office.
Since agreeing to buy Twitter, Musk has grown more emboldened in voicing his political opinions. In November 2022, he urged his "independent-minded" followers to back Republican candidates in the US midterm elections.
Amid his ongoing rightward political shift, Musk was seen sitting with News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch at the 2023 Super Bowl.
Elon Musk has not shied away from warning about the risks of artificial intelligence, either, even going so far as to criticize the company he helped start, OpenAI. Musk said OpenAI, which created ChatGPT, had become a "maximum profit company effectively controlled by Microsoft" – not what he intended.
Musk has hinted that he doesn't plan to remain Twitter's CEO for too long, saying that he planned to find someone to take over the top job towards the end of 2023.
In late-February 2023, Musk's luck seemed to be turning around: he took back the title of world's richest man from Bernard Arnault as Tesla's stock soared.
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