When Hollywood star Robert Downey Jnr won the part of Tony Stark – ingenious engineer turned comic book superhero Iron Man – he says there was only one muse who came to mind.
Silicon Valley geek turned multi-billionaire Elon Musk may not have invented a super-powered armoured suit with which to save us all, but he’s just about thought of everything else.
Musk, the 80th richest person in the world, worth £11billion – has made safeguarding the world his business, with an eclectic catalogue of far-out ideas.
“The first step is to establish that something is possible,” he insists with indomitable superhero confidence.
There’s his £36.44billion electric and self-drive car business Tesla, speeding towards an eco-friendly horizon and saving us from our toxic selves.
Alongside sits SpaceX, Musk ’s foray into the universe, which aims to send us to Mars in reusable rockets, settling a million people there by the mid-2060s.
And then there’s the most futuristic of all, Musk’s medical research company Neuralink, which aims to connect human brains with computers.
Recently, he joined Donald Trump’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative as an advisor and he is also part of the US President’s economic advisory board.
Meanwhile, as Musk drags the world into the future at a speed to rival his rockets, his personal life is mirroring the breakneck trajectory.
At 45, he’s already been married three times – twice in the space of three years to British St Trinian’s actress Talulah Riley. And most recently, he’s been linked to Johnny Depp’s ex, actress Amber Heard .
Musk says total lack of fear lies behind his fast-fuelled decision-making and achievements. “Fear is finite, hope is infinite. We are afraid of failing, but it doesn’t stop us from trying,” he once said.
“People should certainly ignore fear if it’s irrational. Even if it’s rational and the stake is worth it, it’s worth proceeding.”
South African by birth, the entrepreneur was raised by his engineer dad Errol and dietician and model mum Maye.
He has a younger brother Kimbal, also an entrepreneur and millionaire, and younger sister Tosca, a film producer.
Born in 1971, by the age of 10 – long before computers became mainstream child’s play – Musk showed an interest, and just two years later taught himself computer programming.
His first creation was a video game called Blaster, which, at age 12, he sold for £400. “I have two brilliant children, but Elon’s a genius,” said Maye.
“I can explain Tosca and Kimbal pretty well. I can’t explain Elon.”
Maye and Errol split when the children were young and they remained with their dad. It has been reported Errol was very strict, but he describes a young son always naturally dedicated to study.
Errol said: “Elon has always been an introvert thinker. So where a lot of people would go to a party and have a great time, and drink and talk about all sorts of things like rugby or sport, you would find Elon had found the person’s library and was going through their books.”
Because he was so bright, Musk was sent to school early, the “youngest and the smallest”. He was relentlessly bullied.
He has described being thrown down a concrete stairwell and ending up in hospital. Aged 18, he moved to Canada, where he had an uncle.
Musk studied at Queen’s University, in Ontario, and, after graduation, moved to California’s Silicon Valley, armed with capital from his father.
Aged just 27, he sold his first co-founded company, Zip2, to Compaq in 1999 for £246million, earning him £14million.
PayPal, originally X.com, was to follow. Musk co-founded the online payments company and sold it for £1.2billion in 2002, making £132million from the deal.
Meanwhile, he was moving fast in his personal life, too. He met his first wife, Justine Wilson, at university.
They married in 2000. Author Justine gave birth to their first son Nevada in 2002, but at 10 weeks old, he died of sudden infant death syndrome.
Justine has said Musk bottled up his grief. “Elon made it clear he did not want to talk about Nevada’s death.
“I didn’t understand this, just as he didn’t understand why I grieved openly, which he regarded as emotionally manipulative,” she said.
But, with IVF, in the next five years, they had twins Xavier and Griffin, and triplets Damian, Saxon and Kai. Despite their joy, their marriage foundered.
“Elon does what he wants and he is relentless about it”, Justine said. “It’s Elon’s world and the rest of us live in it.” They divorced in 2008.
Musk sped into love again – this time with Talulah. That same year, he met the 22-year-old star in a London club. Just a few weeks later, on a hotel bed in Beverly Hills, he asked her to marry him. He didn’t have a ring, so they shook hands.
It is said at work he is ferocious, He works 80 to 100 hours a week and tells employees: “I want your head to hurt every night when you go to bed.”
Perhaps, unsurprisingly, his relationship with the actress has been a roller-coaster ride. They married in 2010, but divorced in 2012 – only to remarry again the following summer.
She then filed for divorce again in 2014, then withdrew it, and then filed another time.
“It probably looks mad from the outside but it hasn’t put either of us off marriage. We are both very romantic people,” Talulah explained.
Musk argues virtual reality is already approaching being indistinguishable from reality.
Certainly, his own star is sky-rocketing so fast it’s hard to decipher what’s science fiction and what is not.
Mastermind's words of wisdom that blew the world away
- “Starting a car company is idiotic and an electric car company is idiocy squared.”
- “We should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that.”
- “We are already cyborgs. You have a partial digital version of yourself online in the form of your emails, social media and all the things that you do. You have basically superpowers with your computer and your phone and the apps that are there. You have more power than the US President had 20 years ago.”
- “Failure is an option. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”
- “There’s a fundamental difference, if you look into the future, between a humanity that is a space-faring civilization, that’s out there exploring the stars… compared with one where we are forever confined to Earth until some eventual extinction.”
- “It’s remarkable how many things you can explode. I’m lucky to have all my fingers.”
- “If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, still do it.”