Meet The ‘Real-Life Iron Man’

Marvel’s self-styled “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” is a work of pure fiction… isn’t he? Meet Elon Musk, the very real inspiration behind Robert Downey Jr’s ‘Iron Man’…

When Stan Lee created the character of Tony Stark and his crime-fighting alter-ego Iron Man in 1963, the character was conceived as a straight-up capitalist – a ludicrous concoction of billionaire industry magnate, ladies man and adventurer. Little did Stan Lee know that just eight years later, a child would be born who would one day embody all the things that Iron Man represented on the page – one who would go on to inform the most popular portrayal of the character. Today, Elon Musk is a billionaire tycoon trying to bring the world clean energy and extend mankind’s reach into outer space – and he’s still in his thirties. If anything, he’s even more cartoonish than Tony Stark ever was.

“When I was trying to bring the character of genius billionaire Tony Stark to the big screen in 'Iron Man’, I had no idea how to make him seem real,” said director Jon Favreau, the man who unwittingly kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008. 

The 'Swingers’ star knew he had his leading man in Robert Downey Jr (above), but the pair didn’t know how to pitch the character: how do you make a rich, successful, insanely powerful man popular to the average cinemagoer? “Robert Downey Jr. said, 'We need to sit down with Elon Musk’,” said Favreau. “Downey was right. Elon is a paragon of enthusiasm, good humor and curiosity – a Renaissance man in an era that needs them.”

So who is Elon Musk? Chances are you’ve used one or more of his products and services. At 10 years old, he taught himself how to code. At 12, he created a videogame and sold it to a computer magazine for £320. With bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Economics, he dropped out of a PhD after two days when he become obsessed with the internet and its myriad opportunities. He was right to quit: Musk’s prototype online portal Zip2 was eventually sold to Compaq for £220 million. Some might rest on their laurels. Musk invented Paypal and sold it to eBay for £966 million. Not bad for a 31-year-old; at this point in his life, Tony Stark was still selling weapons to warmongers.

What was next for Elon Musk? Outer space. Musk created space exploration company SpaceX, which now receives contracts from NASA, makes regular missions to the International Space Station and is at the forefront of setting up a colony on Mars. Back on Earth, Musk’s automobile company Tesla Motors – named after inventor Nikola Tesla, the Tony Stark of his day – is leading the electric car revolution, striving to one day eliminate the need for vehicles that run from fossil fuels. Oh, and he also created SolarCity, the USA’s #2 solar power provider. Frankly, Elon Musk makes fellow entrepreneurs Richard Branson and Bill Gates look like slackers.

So, we’ve established he’s a genius, it’s obvious he’s a billionaire and his philanthropy is off the scale… but can Elon Musk match Tony Stark in the playboy stakes? Well, after his divorce in 2008, Musk went on a string of dates (rumoured lovers included Cameron Diaz) until he met, married and later remarried British actress Talulah Riley of 'St Trinian’s’ fame (see below). We’d say he’s doing pretty well with the ladies too. 

Honestly, if we discovered that Elon Musk had been fighting crime at night dressed in a fully-equipped prototype exo-suit, we wouldn’t be all that surprised…

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