Elon Musk's tragic real-life story

Love him or hate him, Elon Musk is a titan of the tech industry. Enterprises such as Tesla and SpaceX alone are more than enough to justify people calling him a real-life Iron Man. Musk is a guy who can and absolutely will do almost anything. He freely talks about his plans to colonize Mars. He sent an electric car roaming through space. His Boring Company once sold a consumer model flamethrower called "Not a Flamethrower," because why not?

But where does a man like Elon Musk come from? What makes his ideas machine tick? What are the deep, dark secrets that keep him awake at night? He didn't just pop into existence, head full of ideas and a happy smile on his face. Despite the billions in his bank account and a string of amazing inventions under his belt, Musk's personal life has been full of tragedy and misfortune. Here's the story of the real Elon Musk — the man behind the myth. 

He was brutally bullied as a child

Elon Musk might be a financially powerful and physically large man today, but things were very different during his childhood in South Africa. According to Business Insider, Musk was the youngest and smallest child in his school, which made him a target for bullying. According to his mother and brother, other children regularly picked on young Musk and even beat him up. By Musk's own admission, one of these attacks was so brutal that it left him with a jagged septum. As he became older, this injury started to give him breathing problems and he had to get it fixed in 2013.

Musk survived the constant bullying by focusing on two things. One was his family: The Musks viewed themselves as wanderers and adventurers who can do great things, which provided the young man with a mental shelter from the horrors of the schoolyard. The other one was his growing interest in business and computers, which turned out to serve him pretty well in his adulthood.

He has a difficult relationship with his father

At some point in their lives, most children go through a period where their relationship with their parents is a little strained. In Elon Musk's case, this rift is serious and caused by more than just minor teenage disagreements. In a biography published in 2015, Musk called his father, Errol Musk, "an odd duck," and had this to say about his childhood: "It would certainly be accurate to say that I did not have a good childhood. … It may sound good. It was not absent of good, but it was not a happy childhood. It was like misery." He seems to attribute quite a lot of this misery to Errol. In an interview he gave in 2017, Musk called his father a "terrible human being" who had a tendency to make evil plans and who has committed almost every crime you can imagine. He didn't go into further detail except to say that when he was very young, his father was physically abusive.

Errol Musk has mostly been unaffected by the negative publicity. According to the New Zealand Herald, he feels that his son's accusations are the actions of a spoiled child. He also says that a number of the stories Musk likes to tell about him are patently untrue, and suspects his son's comments about him are motivated by a fragile emotional state … and possibly, a lingering bitterness over the way Errol failed to love the USA like his son did.

He's terrified of being alone

It's easy to think of a man like Elon Musk as an unflappable inventor who is content to tinker with his countless projects, and who doesn't really need the company of other people. According to an interview he gave to Rolling Stone in 2017, this could not be further from the truth. The interviewer happened to catch Musk at a moment where he had recently broken up with his girlfriend, Amber Heard. This emotional situation caused Musk to reveal a number of personal details, including a particularly surprising one: He's terrified of being alone. 

Musk flat out admitted in the interview that he can't be happy if he's not in a long-term relationship. He said that when he was a child he decided he never wanted to be alone, and made it clear that this has carried over to adulthood. He feels that living in a big, empty house all by yourself makes it extremely difficult to be happy. When the interviewer pointed out that Musk's need for companionship sounds a lot like codependence, Musk emphatically disagreed. This was not an entirely unfair assessment on the journalist's part: After all, Musk had just casually asked if the interviewer knew anyone he should date.

His first child died as a baby

In 2002, Elon Musk and his first wife, Justine, went through a tragedy that no couple should ever endure. As described by Esquire, their first child was a boy called Nevada Alexander. He stopped breathing in his crib when he was only ten weeks old, and died in his mother's arms after they decided to take him off life support. According to Justine, Musk found it very difficult to face this kind of loss, so he dealt with the situation by … not dealing with it. Instead of facing his emotions, the man who builds rockets adapted a different coping mechanism: a no-nonsense mentality that ignored the dark, painful things and kept the show going. 

Unfortunately, the future held further difficulties for the couple. Although Musk and Justine had twins in 2004 and triplets in 2006 with the help of fertility treatments, they wouldn't stay together for long. In 2008, Justine told Musk how unhappy she was. After a short period of counseling, Musk demanded that Justine accept their marriage with no changes, and when she couldn't, he immediately filed for divorce. Just six weeks later, he got engaged to British actress Talulah Riley.

He once ran out of money

In 2010, Elon Musk found himself in a very peculiar pickle: He ran out of money. Yes, seriously. As described by the New York Times, the industrial tycoon who only recently had $200 million of hard cash at his disposal was forced to admit that he had managed to completely empty his bank account. In fact, the circumstances had forced him to live off loans from his friends for as long as four months. Musk revealed this surprising predicament during his divorce proceedings with Justine Musk, who was asking for a house, child support, alimony, and $6 million in cash.

Of course, the man is a billionaire today, so this was just a temporary issue. Musk was never broke in the "everything I own is gone" kind of way. Instead, this was a period in his life where his finances were all tied up in assets, leaving him extremely rich in resources but flat broke when it came to actual dollars in his pocket.

His personal life is filled with divorces and break-ups

A tall, dark, and charismatic multi-billionaire can be somewhat popular with the ladies. Elon Musk is certainly no exception to that rule, and as a result, he's had his share of romantic adventures. However, the Independent and Business Insider have both taken a look at Musk's dating history, and his relationships have an unfortunate tendency to … well, end. His first marriage, to Justine Musk, ended in a divorce. His marriage to Talulah Riley was a more complicated affair: They divorced in 2012 and remarried in 2013. Musk filed and withdrew a second divorce in 2014, and Riley finally divorced him in 2016. Later that year, Musk started dating actress Amber Heard, but they separated in 2017 because their schedules made it impossible to maintain a relationship.

Perhaps the strangest piece of Musk's relationship puzzle is the most recent one. As described by Insider, Musk was browsing Twitter to make a peculiar artificial intelligence pun when he noticed that indie musician Grimes had already used the same joke in one of her music videos. The two bonded over Twitter and started dating, and debuted their relationship by attending the 2018 Met Gala as a couple. Since then, the two have enjoyed a tumultuous "are they or aren't they" relationship, peppered with the occasional grievance aired over social media. At one point, Musk even made the news merely by unfollowing (and later refollowing) Grimes on Twitter. So … that's something to watch. Or not.

There are rumors of drug use and Silicon Valley sex parties

As a high-ranking member of the Silicon Valley pantheon, Elon Musk has been the subject of many rumors linking him with the decadent lifestyle of the rich and famous. Musk smoked marijuana on Joe Rogan's podcast and, rather more controversially, rapper Azealia Banks accused him and girlfriend Grimes of leaving her stranded in Musk's house for "days." Banks insinuated that during her stay Musk was on acid, and she speculated that the two were looking for some kinky bedroom antics.

Although Musk denies knowing Banks personally, she's not the only one who has connected the billionaire with a lifestyle of debauchery. In 2018, Vanity Fair released an excerpt of Emily Chang's book Brotopia, about the excesses of Silicon Valley power players. The piece described the nasty details of a typical Technocrati theme party, with copious drugs and adult hookups. The excerpt prompted an entrepreneur called Paul Biggar to write a blog post revealing Musk attended the party. According to the Cut, Chang confirms this in her book and reveals that Musk was wearing an armor-themed costume with spikes and chains.

A spokesperson to Musk confirmed he had indeed been there for a couple hours but insisted that Musk never realized he was in the middle of a sex party. Instead, he thought that it was just a corporate costume party. How you confuse those two things is anyone's guess.

He is bleeding money

Sometimes you have to lose money to make money, and when you're Elon Musk, the sheer amount you can afford to lose could bankrupt a small country. 2018 was a pretty eventful year for Musk, which has reflected in his net worth … in a very, very bad way. The South African reports that the various lawsuits and scandals involving Musk as a person and Tesla as a company have chewed away a huge chunk of his personal fortune. In fact, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates Musk lost an impressive $4 billion of his fortune in 2018.

Don't expect to see Musk in the poorhouse just yet, though. Even after such a costly year, he can still afford a thing or two: In September 2018, his estimated net worth was around $21.6 billion, so he can afford five more years like this and still save a comfortable $1.6 billion for a rainy day. 

His bold promises leave behind a string of injuries

There's no question that Elon Musk promises much, works hard, and sets his ambitions sky high. According to the Guardian, his tendency to set ambitious goals is not always a good thing because meeting those goals is extremely difficult, and the stress of accomplishing the task falls on the shoulders of his workers. Musk's optimistic promises of Tesla production and availability mean his factory workers operate under a constant rush. This, in turn, means that injuries happen and safety measures sometimes fail. 

In 2017, Tesla and Musk were in hot water because a number of factory workers had suffered life-changing injuries. Musk managed to turn this into a PR victory by promising that he'd personally meet every injured person and attempt to understand how to make the process safer by going down the production line and personally performing the same tasks they do. However, a number of workers who have been injured since this bold promise say that they've never had that personal meeting with Musk, let alone seen him perform their tasks. 

Meanwhile, the constant stress, the pressure to meet demands, and the difficulty of the work has made the Tesla factory an ideal environment for work-related injury. One Tesla worker even says that the main export of the company is injuries, not cars. Additional reporting shows Tesla even left injuries off its books to make the factories appear safer than they were.

He used to sleep on a horrible couch

For a man who is worth literal billions and owns multiple mansions, Elon Musk's sleeping arrangement can be less than luxurious. According to Yahoo! Finance, Musk spent many nights sleeping on an uncomfortable, narrow couch at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, when the company was scrambling to produce their Model 3 sedan in the spring of 2018. By Musk's own admission, the couch was so bad that sometimes he just slept on the floor instead. 

According to CNBC, when the internet learned about the billionaire's sub-par nap couch, YouTuber Ben Sullins jokingly organized a crowdfunding campaign to buy Musk a more comfortable one. To his surprise, Musk fans donated over $9,000 in less than a week, and a furniture company promised to donate the couch. Sullins gave the money to charity but didn't miss his chance to deliver the couch to the Tesla factory. Musk thanked the campaign and promised that he'd match their donation from his own foundation. However, he may not actually use his gift couch. He's reportedly already found a new slumber spot under his desk, with a pillow ready on a nearby chair in case he needs to get really comfortable.

His life is constant work

Elon Musk is a man whose work-life balance tends to skew heavily toward work. According to the Guardian, the crunch period of Tesla's Model 3 production schedule saw Musk routinely work 120-hour weeks, popping Ambien pills to wind himself down on the rare occasion he actually made it home instead of spending the night at the factory. Musk's notorious efficiency and hardcore work ethic has often been celebrated by the press, but in August 2018, he showed that there's a downside to being constantly in work mode. In an emotional interview with the New York Times, the usually assertive Musk revealed how much his killer schedule has affected him. He almost missed his brother's wedding, and spent his own birthday holed up in the Tesla factory. During the busiest stretches he had no time to see his friends, who were concerned about his well-being. 

The fact that Musk sometimes cools down with Ambien sedatives after his grueling work days has added an extra element of concern for his business associates. The drug doesn't always help him sleep as it should. Instead, Tesla board members have suspected that it is the real reason behind his occasional strange Twitter tirades.

He can't help making claims that hurt people and companies

Elon Musk has a habit of making untrue claims that hurt their target. As the Washington Post describes, Musk announced in August 2018 that he might privatize Tesla at $420 per stock and had already secured the funding. When it became clear that funding was far from secure, Tesla's stock plunged and the Securities and Exchange Commission targeted Musk. According to the Verge, this got Musk removed as chairman of board. Undeterred, Musk stated that he has no respect for the SEC, despite the fact that they're still investigating him.

Musk's refusal to eat crow was even more evident in July 2018, when he offered a mini submarine to help rescue the teenagers who were stuck in a cave in Thailand. BBC reports that Vernon Unsworth, an experienced diver who was a part of the rescue operation, dismissed this as a PR stunt and told Musk to "stick his submarine where it hurts." Okay … that's iffy, but then Musk responded by calling Unsworth a pedophile on Twitter. (If someone had mentioned Hitler, we'd have an internet bingo.) Although he later apologized and deleted the tweets, Musk soon reignited the feud by wondering why Unsworth hadn't sued him yet and eventually called the diver a "child rapist." At this point, Musk got his lawsuit.

Eric Mack of Inc. writes that Musk's erratic behavior might come from a very sad place: burnout and exhaustion. Since Musk believes he's the only man for any job, perhaps he pushes himself too hard by attempting to do everything himself.