New Elon Musk biography shows what drives the world's richest man
Is Elon Musk’s tortured relationship with his father to blame for a masochistic pursuit of relentless turmoil in his love life? A new biography offers gripping insights into what drives the world’s richest man
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After her toxic legal battle with ex-husband Johnny Depp, the world may have had enough of Amber Heard’s views on men, but the actress does seem to understand what makes another of her ex-lovers tick.
‘Elon loves fire and sometimes it burns him,’ she told the author of a penetrating new biography of the world’s richest man, the mercurial entrepreneur Elon Musk.
And she should know. As disclosed by biographer Walter Isaacson in a 670-page doorstop memoir, called simply Elon Musk, published yesterday, many of those closest to him deem Heard the most destructive of all the volatile influences he’s embraced in his life.
Their relationship — a footnote in her war with Depp, who raised it simply as evidence of her infidelity — began in 2012 when she featured in an action film called Machete Kills about an inventor who wants to create a new society in space. Musk, who fulfilled that criteria exactly, agreed to be a consultant in a bid to meet her.
Their romantic involvement, however, started four years later when Heard was poised to split up from Depp, and — for Musk’s family and friends — she proved a nightmare from the start, says Isaacson.
A stack of US writer Walter Isaacson’s book ‘Elon Musk’ is on display at a Barnes & Noble store in Glendale, California
Difficult childhood: Musk with his parents Errol and Maye, brother Kimbal and sister Tosca
The author, who previously wrote an exhaustive biography of the equally controversial Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, was given unprecedented access to the Tesla and SpaceX owner over more than two years.
Critics have complained that Isaacson relies too much on the views of Musk and his loved ones to give a truly accurate verdict on a visionary but ruthless businessman who is as widely loathed as he is admired.
However, the writer’s insights into 52-year-old Musk’s private life — particularly his tortured relationship with an oppressive father and a seemingly warped inclination to find similar discord in his romantic life — are revealing for a world struggling to understand the enigmatic and astonishingly influential tycoon.
‘Musk was not bred for domestic tranquillity. Most of his romantic relationships involve psychological turmoil,’ observes Isaacson.
Musk’s family, including mother Maye and brother Kimbal, regarded his first wife, writer Justine Wilson, whom he married before he became uber-rich and famous, as insecure, anti-social and ‘very mean’.
But she attracted a complicated man who likes his women to be ‘edgy’. Upset that he was trying to turn her into a ‘trophy wife’ and even pushing her to dye her hair platinum, they fought loudly and endlessly, making Musk — at least according to his mother — miserable.
But Justine, with whom he had five children before their divorce in 2008, was nothing on Amber Heard, friends and family told Isaacson.
The actress was with Musk for more than a year following his two marriages to the same woman, the British actress Talulah Riley, who has been a ‘lovely steadying influence’ on the moody Musk. According to Isaacson, ‘if he had liked stability more than storm and drama, she would have been perfect for him’.
But as in his turbulent approach to business, particularly his tempestuous ownership of social media company X (formerly Twitter), Musk thrives on ‘storm’. And, like Depp, he found it in Heard.
‘His brother and friends hated her with a passion that made their distaste for Justine pale,’ writes Isaacson. Kimbal told Isaacson: ‘She was just so toxic. A nightmare.’
Musk’s family, including mother Maye and brother Kimbal, regarded his first wife, writer Justine Wilson (pictured), whom he married before he became uber-rich and famous, as insecure, anti-social and ‘very mean’
Talking to Talulah Riley (pictured) about his passion for rockets when they first met in a London nightclub, he suddenly broke off to ask: ‘May I put my hand on your knee?’
Musk’s chief of staff Sam Teller compared her to a comic-book villain, saying: ‘She was like the Joker in Batman. She didn’t have a goal or aim other than chaos. She thrives on destabilising everything.’
She and Musk ‘would stay up all night fighting, and then he would not be able to get up until the afternoon’, Isaacson writes.
They broke up in July 2017 only to get back together for another five chaotic months, which reached a terrible climax during a ‘wild’ family trip to Rio de Janeiro with brother Kimbal and his wife in December.
When they got to their hotel, the couple ‘had another of their flame-throwing fights’. Heard locked herself in the room and ‘started yelling that she was afraid she would be attacked and that Elon had taken her passport’, writes Isaacson.
‘The security guards and Kimbal’s wife all tried to convince her that she was safe, her passport was in her bag, and she could and should leave whenever she wanted.’ (Heard told the writer they did have a row that ‘got rather dramatic’ but said they soon resolved it).
Musk has revealed he has Asperger’s Syndrome and, like many Silicon Valley tech titans, is notoriously bad at empathising with other people, especially women.
Talking to Talulah Riley about his passion for rockets when they first met in a London nightclub, he suddenly broke off to ask: ‘May I put my hand on your knee?’ On a first date with a friend’s daughter, his opening line to her was: ‘Do you ever think about electric cars?’
Asked why he falls in love with women who — as younger brother Kimbal puts it — ‘are really mean to him’, Musk replied: ‘Because I’m just a fool for love. I am often a fool, but especially for love.’
The South African-born billionaire’s approach to children is even more impenetrable. He believes that humanity needs to produce offspring at a far quicker rate, or civilisation will crumble.
Although it was previously assumed that he has ten children by three women, the new book reveals that he has had an eleventh with his former on-off girlfriend Claire Boucher, alias Canadian pop star Grimes. In the grand tradition of Musk’s taste for outlandish children’s names, the little boy, born in June last year, is called Techno Mechanicus.
Grimes is among several people close to Musk who told Isaacson that at the root of the mogul’s masochistic attraction to toxic women (and neither she nor Isaacson include her among them) is his defining relationship with his allegedly abusive father, Errol. ‘I think he got conditioned in childhood that life is pain,’ said Grimes.
Isaacson argues that Musk wouldn’t have achieved what he has without having a ‘demon mode’, and that much of that dark side comes from his ‘Jekyll-and-Hyde’ father. The latter’s shadow continues to hang over Musk — and he’s never managed to escape it. According to Isaacson, Errol Musk, an ‘adventurer and wheeler-dealer’, whose mother was English and father South African, treated Elon with such heartlessness that he would take the side of the vicious bullies who made his nerdy son’s life a misery at school.
On wilderness survival camps out on the South African veldt which Musk called a ‘paramilitary Lord of the Flies’, the other pupils would need no encouragement to physically attack the ‘small and emotionally awkward’ boy in a battle for scarce resources.
After her toxic legal battle with ex-husband Johnny Depp, the world may have had enough of Amber Heard’s views on men, but the actress does seem to understand what makes another of her ex-lovers tick
Musk, who’s displayed a shocking weakness for childish spats with complete strangers on social media, freely admits that he is chronically impulsive
Musk told Rolling Stone in 2017 that his father had been a ‘terrible human being’ and his childhood was ‘miserable’. However, the following year Errol told the Mail: ‘Elon needs to grow up. He needs to get over himself.’ He went on: ‘I’m not an evil person. I have nothing to regret. I’m just a father who loves his son — and all his children — and is happy to know they are safe and healthy and secure.’
Musk Sr also dismissed claims that he was abusive towards Elon’s mother Maye as ‘ridiculous, absurd and made-up’.
When they divorced in 1980, Elon made the mistake, as he sees it, of choosing to live with his father.
‘He was lonely… he used his psychological ways on me. It turned out to be a really bad idea,’ Musk told his biographer. He claims that Errol endlessly put his son down and told him he would never succeed in life.
‘Adversity shaped me. My pain threshold became very high,’ says Musk. His first wife, Justine, sees it rather less positively, telling Isaacson that the consequence of his father repeatedly calling him ‘a moron and an idiot’ was that Musk switched off emotionally.
After Musk and Justine’s first child died from sudden infant death syndrome in 2002, he brought Errol to live in the U.S. They became estranged after Errol started a relationship with his own stepdaughter, Jana, from his 18-year marriage to Heide Bezuidenhout. He now has two children with Jana.
A friend recalled the only time he’d seen Musk’s hands shaking was when met his father. Ex-wife Talulah Riley remembers him telling her about his father: ‘I remember one of those nights, he began crying, and it was really horrendous for him,’ she said.
Tragically for Musk, loved ones often see Errol in him, particularly when he loses his temper or his mood suddenly darkens. Justine said she would tell him: ‘You’re turning into your father.’ It was, she added, ‘our code phrase to warn him that he was going into the realm of darkness’.
Musk, who’s displayed a shocking weakness for childish spats with complete strangers on social media, freely admits that he is chronically impulsive. He composed 19,000 tweets over a decade, many of them obnoxious.
‘My tweets are like Niagara Falls sometimes and they come too fast,’ he confided to Isaacson. He consequently tends to make enemies fast — one of them being Bill Gates.
He reveals in the book that while he once admired the billionaire Microsoft co-founder, they fell out publicly in 2022 when Gates, now the world’s most deep-pocketed philanthropist, urged Musk to donate money to various good causes — including fighting climate change.
Grimes (pictured) is among several people close to Musk who told Isaacson that at the root of the mogul’s masochistic attraction to toxic women is his defining relationship with his allegedly abusive father, Errol
Musk, however, retorted that he couldn’t take Gates’ climate philanthropy ‘seriously’ as he had taken a $500 million ‘short’ position or stock market bet against the value of Musk’s electric car maker, Tesla, when ‘it was the company doing the most to solve climate change’.
Musk later took a typically puerile jab at Gates on Twitter, posting a photo of him alongside an emoji of a pregnant man to mock Gates’s mid-life paunch.
Gates told Isaacson: ‘Once he heard I’d shorted the stock, he was super mean to me, but he’s super mean to so many people, so you can’t take it too personally.’
Musk certainly loved to stir things up on Twitter. But many have wondered what possessed him to buy it — last year, forking out £36.7 billion, well over the odds, analysts agreed — for a struggling social media company that had never made a profit and many believed never would. (And, for the record, nothing he’s done since then with the company he renamed X has suggested the cynics were wrong.)
Intriguingly, his latest biographer offers several reasons why Musk bought the company. One is that he simply got bored with his success at other companies such as Tesla and SpaceX.
‘Everything was going so well that [Musk] became uncomfortable,’ Isaacson told the Financial Times. ‘He doesn’t like things when they are going well. He is addicted to drama.’ He says Musk told him: ‘It’s not like I need to be richer.’
Isaacson personally thought the idea of such a fundamentally anti-social person buying a ‘social’ media venture to be ‘insane’, adding: ‘Musk doesn’t have empathy and so Twitter was not a good fit for him.’
But Isaacson also believes Musk wanted to buy Twitter because, having suffered appallingly at the hands of playground bullies in childhood, he wanted control of the ‘world’s ultimate playground’.
And he’s certainly taken on the forces of ‘wokeness’ that he regards as the real bullies of social media, imposing a suffocating groupthink on users and closing down free speech, even humour.
Isaacson argues that Musk’s deeply ingrained antipathy to Left-wing political correctness stems from his painful estrangement from Jenna (formerly Xavier), one of his children with first wife Justine.
At 16, Xavier decided to transition to Jenna and wants nothing to do with Musk. She was reportedly appalled by his wealth and capitalist instincts and has embraced ‘radical socialist politics’. ‘He feels he lost a son who changed first and last names and won’t speak to him any more because of this woke-mind virus,’ said Jared Birchall, Musk’s personal financial manager.
‘He is a first-hand witness on a very personal level of the damaging effect of being indoctrinated by this woke-mind religion.’
But at the end of the day, would Elon Musk be truly content with a happy family?
‘He is a drama magnet,’ said brother Kimbal. ‘That’s his compulsion, the theme of his life.’
Given this is a man who controls everything from the satellites in the skies to free speech on the internet, perhaps his craving for drama should concern us all.
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