HE’S the Silicon Valley billionaire whose vision was to transform the world – pumping his PayPal fortune into electric cars and a bid to take passengers to space.
But after a series of bizarre tweets, jaw-dropping personal admissions and endless production problems, investors and fans now fear the wheels could be falling off Elon Musk’s Tesla car empire.
A staggering £3.6billion was wiped off the firm’s value yesterday following his latest outburst, in which he admitted taking powerful sedatives to cope with the “most painful year” of his career.
In a candid and often tearful interview, the man credited with being the inspiration for Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man revealed he had started taking Ambien — aka the “Devil’s Aspirin” — to sleep.
He opened up about his sedative use as he hit back at claims he had been smoking WEED when he sent a tweet that sent stock markets berserk.
Musk’s explosive tweet, sent on August 7, read: “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.”
News that Musk wanted to buy up Tesla shares at around 20 per cent above their recent trading value — an unheard-of move — sent the market into a frenzy and puzzled analysts.
It also led to accusations that the $420 referred to 420, which has long been a codeword for cannabis in the US, as it was used by cops in the Seventies to describe catching someone smoking marijuana.
By the end of that day Tesla shares were up 11 per cent — causing so-called short sellers, who bet on certain stocks losing value and who Musk has said are the bane of his business life, to lose billions.
It later emerged that the £55billion funding for the buy up had in fact not yet been secured.
The federal regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, is now reportedly looking into whether the tweet was to hurt those who were “shorting” the stock, and have served Tesla with a subpoena.
In his New York Times interview, chief executive Musk explained that he had made the calculation by simply adding 20 per cent to the then share price, taking it to $419 — then rounded it up to $420.
He said: “It seemed like better karma at $420 than at $419. But I was not on weed, to be clear. Weed is not helpful for productivity.
“There’s a reason for the word ‘stoned’. You just sit there like a stone on weed.”
Offering a glimpse of his inner torment — which caused Tesla’s stocks to tumble from their new heights, the 47-year-old revealed: “This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career. It was excruciating.”
It comes days after controversial rapper Azealia Banks claimed on social media she had spent a weekend at Musk’s house while waiting to record with his singer girlfriend, 30, known as Grimes.
Banks wrote on Instagram that the tech guru had tweeted while on psychedelic drug LSD, known as acid.
She wrote: “I waited around all weekend while Grimes coddled her boyfriend for being too stupid to know not to go on Twitter while on acid.”
The rapper, 27, even speculated that the couple may have invited her to their home for “some weird threesome sex s**t to begin with”.
A spokesman for Musk said: “Elon has never even met Ms Banks or communicated with her in any way.”
Three-times divorced dad-of-five Musk — who admits to sleeping on the Tesla factory floor and working 120 hours a week — said in the interview that his physical health had suffered from his workaholic tenancies.
He also struggles to rest, admitting: “It is often a choice of no sleep or Ambien.”
The South Africa-born mogul, worth £16.5billion, added of his health: “It’s not been great, actually. I’ve had friends come by who are really concerned. There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside.
“This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”
During the hour-long chat to the New York Times, published on Thursday, Musk “choked up” at “multiple points”.
Speaking from his Los Angeles home, he told how he almost missed his brother Kimbal’s Spanish wedding this summer and even spent his birthday at the Tesla plant.
At times “overcome by emotion”, Musk said he spent the whole 24 hours of his birthday on June 28 at work, emphasising: “All night — no friends, nothing.”
Two days later he was due to be best man at his brother’s wedding on the Costa Brava, arriving just two hours before the ceremony straight from Tesla’s California HQ.
Immediately after the nuptials ended, Musk boarded a flight back to the factory.
The pressure of producing his mass-market Tesla Model 3 — billed as a “game-changer” in the electric car market — appears to be the cause of much of the strain.
It has been blighted with production problems.
At one point Tesla’s vast factory in Silicon Valley was only managing to produce 2,000 a week, not the target 5,000.
Critics have pointed out that while Musk might be a genius and a visionary, he does not know as much as he should about large-scale manufacturing.
Claims of poor build quality on other models of Tesla, and a fatal accident involving the autopilot system on a Tesla Model X, are heaping on extra pressure.
And Tesla is far from the only project he has on the go — his rocket company, SpaceX, launched the world’s most powerful rocket in February.
Musk is determined to help make life possible on other planets, in order to protect against threats to human life on Earth.
He is also busy trying to revolutionise public transport, working on a high-speed system which would see passengers zoom around in capsules underground.
Meanwhile, the Tesla message was not the first strange tweet Musk has fired off recently.
In July he apologised to British diver Vern Unsworth after calling him “pedo guy” in a row over the cave rescue of a Thai boys’ football team.
He said he had “spoken in anger” after Unsworth ridiculed Musk’s offer of a mini-submarine to help the rescue as a “PR stunt”.
Musk made the apology after Unsworth threatened to sue. Musk’s Ambien habit has, in the words of the New York Times: “worried some [Tesla] board members, who have noted that sometimes the drug does not put Mr Musk to sleep but instead contributes to late-night Twitter sessions.”
Comedian Roseanne Barr, whose career derailed in May after she posted a racist message, blamed that on “Ambien tweeting”.
It has also been reported that Musk has occasionally used recreational drugs.
Last year the mogul admitted being at a drug-fuelled sex party in Silicon Valley at the home of a former investor in venture capital firm DFJ — but said he didn’t know it was a sex party.
According to reports, the billionaire wore a “black, armour-like costume adorned with silver spikes and chains” to the event.
A Musk spokesman said: “Elon was at the party for a couple hours and left around 1am after talking with several DFJ-funded entrepreneurs about technology and building companies.
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“His impression was that it was a corporate party with a costume theme, not a ‘sex party’, and there was no indication that it would become one after he left.”
Space-mad Musk has said before that his greatest ambition of all is to die on Mars.
After his miserable year, he’ll likely be feeling he can’t get off this planet soon enough.