Elon Musk is one of the most controversial figures in the world. As the CEO of companies like Tesla and SpaceX, with a net worth of over $36 billion, he has been described as the closest thing we’ve got to a real-life Tony Stark. At the same time, his troubling personality and destructive actions have burned more bridges for Musk than most of us will ever even cross.
Beyond his outsize personality and reputation, though, it can be difficult to determine who Elon Musk really is. What is the actual truth behind the most baffling man in the world? We’ve got the lowdown on the dark side of Elon Musk, his childhood traumas, and his biggest controversies. Here is the unknown truth of Elon Musk.
Musk was bullied as a child
Right now, Elon Musk is on top of the world. He’s listed as the 31st richest person in the world by Forbes, and his personal life has probably never been better. He and his partner, Canadian pop star Grimes, celebrated the birth of their first child on May 4, 2020. Of course, being the eccentric billionaire he is, Musk followed the longstanding tradition of celebrities giving their kids bizarre names. He named his son X Æ A-Xii, pronounced “Ex Ash A Twelve.”
But despite his all of his success, it wasn’t always easy for Elon Musk. It might surprise you to learn that he was severely bullied back when he was a child growing up in South Africa. And when we say “bullied,” we’re not talking about just simple name calling.
According to Business Insider, in his childhood, Musk’s bullies flung him down some stairs and mercilessly beat him until he blacked out. This incident resulted in Musk being hospitalized.
We’ll never know for sure what kind of impact these experiences had on Musk. But as an adult, he seems to have traded the physical altercations with his peers for Twitter wars and legal battles.
Musk has serious issues with his father
Typically, being compared to Tony Stark would be a good thing. However, there are times the comparison is a little too accurate. For example, Elon Musk seems to suffer from serious daddy issues just like Tony Stark!
He and his brother Kimbal moved in with their father Errol Musk after their parents’ divorce, when Elon was only nine years old. This experience influenced the young boy in all the wrong ways.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Elon revealed, “He was such a terrible human being, you have no idea. My dad will have a carefully thought-out plan of evil. He will plan evil. Almost every crime you can possibly think of, he has done. Almost every evil thing you could possibly think of, he has done. It’s so terrible, you can’t believe it.”
In response, Errol told The Mail on Sunday that his son just needed to “grow up.” It doesn’t look like those daddy issues are going away anytime soon.
Musk helped start PayPal (and then got kicked out)
Elon Musk has had a number of successful business ventures over the years, and developed his entrepreneurial spirit early on. When he was just 12 years old, he wrote the code for a space fighting video game called “Blastar” and sold it to a computer magazine in 1983 for $500.
By 1995, he and his brother had founded Zip2, a software company that provided city travel guides to newspapers. When the company was sold in February 1999, Musk received $22 million for his shares. But his next tech startup was even bigger.
In March 1999, Musk co-founded X.com, which was later renamed PayPal in after it merged with Confinity. PayPal revolutionized the way users paid for goods and services online. But it didn’t take long for the board to oust Musk as CEO in 2000 after he pushed for major operating system changes.
This was an early example of Musk’s personality getting in the way of his success. Still, he got the last laugh. Because he still had the most shares in PayPal, he received $165 million after eBay bought the company in 2002.
Musk didn’t actually start Tesla
If you ask an average Elon Musk fan what is good about the tech mogul, many of them will point to Tesla. After all, it’s a common belief that Musk founded Tesla and that the car is the product of his engineering genius.
The reality is far bleaker. Tesla Motors (now Tesla Inc.), with its vision for a better electric car, was founded by Martin Eberhard in 2003. Musk came to Tesla a year later as a major investor. Musk eventually became chairman and then CEO of the company, providing insight into cars such as the Roadster.
Becoming CEO, though, meant forcing Martin Eberhard out of the company entirely. Eberhard even sued Musk in June 2009 for libel, slander, and breach of contract, alleging that Musk had pushed him out of his own company. But he dropped the lawsuit two months later, raising rumors of a settlement. Now, Musk gets all of the credit and the glory for the dream that was never his to begin with.
Musk has sketchy engineering credits
Elon Musk calls himself an engineer, and his fans cite his involvement with major tech companies like Tesla and SpaceX. But here’s a bitter truth: Musk is not an engineer, unless you count the “engineer at heart” label. And the evidence has been right in front of his fans for years.
Let’s start with his education. Musk has two undergraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania: one in economics and one in physics. And while these are complex topics, they do not provide any training in engineering.
What about his accomplishments? The engineering feats of companies like Tesla and SpaceX are due entirely to the designers and engineers working for Musk. And while Musk deserves credit for his vision and his one-man hype machine (qualities he shares with the late Steve Jobs), that’s not the same as actually building anything.
Musk is strangely open about his obsession with anime catgirls
Elon Musk does a lot of weird things on Twitter. Sometimes, these activities lead to lawsuits. Other times, they simply hurt his businesses.
Arguably the weirdest thing about Musk and Twitter, though, is his obsession with anime cat girls. It got to a point where Musk tweeted a “selfie” of his own cat girl persona and joked about Tesla development being “a crucial step towards catgirls [sic].”
You might argue Musk is just having a little bit of fun online. But given his other Twitter antics, which we’ll get into next, it’s another layer to his strange online behavior.
Musk’s temper got him sued for defamation
In the summer of 2018, Musk made news when he tried to get involved in the infamous rescue mission of a kid’s soccer team that had gotten trapped in a flooded cave for 18 days in Thailand. He had Tesla engineers build a mini-submarine, named it after the soccer team, and took it to Thailand to help. Ultimately, the submarine was not used and the children were rescued without Musk’s involvement.
Afterward, in an interview with CNN, a British cave diver involved in the rescue denounced Musk’s submarine as a “PR stunt” that “had absolutely no chance of working.” He also said Musk should “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
Musk did not take this well and retaliated by calling the man a “pedo guy” on Twitter. He then went so far as to call him a “child rapist” (an unsubstantiated claim) in an e-mail to BuzzFeed News and openly wondered on Twitter why the man hadn’t sued him. By September 2018, the man did sue for defamation. But Musk was cleared by a jury of the charges in December 2019.
In the meantime, Musk ended up in a PR nightmare that damaged his brand, made Tesla stock fall, and destroyed investor confidence.
Musk tweeted Tesla stock is too high, and it plummeted
It seems whenever Elon Musk gets on Twitter, he puts his companies in jeopardy. Another example of this happened when Musk tweeted that Tesla’s company stock price was “too high” on May 1, 2020.
As you might expect, this caused Tesla shares to immediately plummet 12%.
The whole thing echoed the time that Musk got sued for securities fraud because of his August 7, 2018 tweet claiming he had “funding secured” for a private takeover of Tesla at $420 per share. This wasn’t accurate, but he felt making a marijuana joke was just that important.
Because of the legal fallout from that 2018 tweet, Musk was forced to step down as Tesla chairman for at least three years. And tweeting about his company’s finances may end up putting him in the SEC’s crosshairs once more.
Maybe Musk can build a tiny little submarine that will take his phone far away from him and save him from himself?