Meet Maye Musk, Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model and the glamorous mother of the richest man in the world
- Maye Musk graced the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition this week.
- The supermodel and mother of Elon Musk has had a prolific career that started in the 1960s.
Maye Musk captured the spotlight this week when she became the oldest woman to be featured on a Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover.
The 74-year-old super model was one of four cover models for the edition that included Kim Kardashian. Maye Musk has continually pushed boundaries in her career, from posing nude on the cover of New York Magazine in 2011 to becoming CoverGirl's oldest spokesperson at the age of 69.
"If I thought I could be a swimsuit model for Sports Illustrated, people would have locked me away as a crazy lady," Maye Musk said in a video released by the magazine earlier this week. "I'm very excited to let people know that women in their 70s are gorgeous," she added.
—Maye Musk (@mayemusk) May 16, 2022
Maye Musk is often identified based on her role as the mother of Elon Musk, but she has been a celebrity in her own right for decades.
Long before her son became the richest man in the world, Maye Musk had already developed a prolific modeling career. She has appeared on the covers of multiple high-profile magazines, including Vogue and Time, played a role in a Beyonce music video, and been featured in numerous ads for anything from Revlon to Special K cereal.
"I was famous until Elon became famous," Maye Musk told The New York Times in 2016.
Success seems to run in the family and Elon Musk – the billionaire entrepreneur behind PayPay, Tesla, and SpaceX – is not the only one to make a mark. Maye Musk's other son, Kimbal Musk, is the founder of three food companies: The Kitchen Restaurant Group, a nonprofit called Big Green, and Square Roots, an urban-farming company. And her daughter, Tosca Musk, runs her own streaming service and is an award-winning producer and director of films and television shows.
"They followed their passions, and they all went in different directions," Maye Musk told Insider in a 2020 interview.
But, that success didn't come easily for Maye Musk or her children.
Maye Musk has been modeling since she was 15 and was a finalist in the 1969 Miss South Africa beauty competition, but it wasn't until recent years that she could afford to take modeling gigs simply because she wanted to without answering to an agent.
That's because she was hustling to raise three children as a single mother while earning two master's degrees and establishing a career as a model, dietitian, and nutritionist.
Maye Musk married Errol Musk in 1970. The two went to high school together, according to her most recent book, "A Woman Makes A Plan."
Elon Musk's father is an engineer from South Africa, per a 2017 Rolling Stone profile. Maye Musk told Harper's Bazaar in 2019 that their marriage quickly went downhill and described the relationship as abusive. Errol Musk told Rolling Stone that he has never intentionally hurt anyone, excluding one scenario where he said he shot and killed three people who illegally entered his house.
Maye Musk became pregnant with Elon Musk during the couple's honeymoon, she told Insider in a 2020 interview. Elon Musk is estranged from his father. He told Rolling Stone that his father is "a terrible human being."
The two were married for nearly a decade. Maye Musk said in her book that she wanted to leave the relationship, but the Divorce Act, which legalized the termination of a marriage in South Africa, was not enacted until 1979. The couple was divorced the same year the law was passed.
Five jobs at once
In 1989, Maye Musk moved with her family from Johannesburg in South Africa to Toronto. The model told CNBC in a 2018 interview that she had to work five jobs to make ends meet.
She worked as a research officer for the University of Toronto so that her children could go to school there for free and taught modeling and nutrition classes two nights a week. All while working on her practice and studying to become a registered dietitian.
The family lived in a small rent-controlled apartment in Toronto. "We spent three weeks just taking staples out of the floor and removing the wallpaper, which was covered in green velvet vines and was peeling," Maye Musk told Insider in 2015.
The apartment was bare when they initially moved in.
"And the first thing we did, after the first salary I got, [was] we got an inexpensive carpet put down because we didn't have chairs or anything," she said in 2015. "And the second thing we got was a computer for Elon. And so he would sit on the floor at his computer."
Maye Musk recalls a time when the family couldn't afford to buy red meat for dinner. In the early 1990s, one of her clients who owned an abattoir (or slaughterhouse) would give the family a roast every month, even though he had no idea the family couldn't afford to buy one themselves.
"He gave us this huge roast once a month for the three of [my kids]," she said in 2015. "And I'd cut it in four, freeze three [pieces], and we would have a roast once a week that we could share."
The whole Musk family worked hard to support each other during that time, too.
Tosca Musk worked at an upscale grocery store near their apartment while she went to school, and Maye Musk helped Elon Musk get a job at Microsoft before he went to college since the husband of one of her colleagues worked there. Later on, she also helped her sons find jobs at a bank through a friend.
'I never helped my kids'
Despite her achievements, Maye Musk insists that her influence isn't responsible for the success of her children, including Elon Musk.
"I never helped my kids," Maye Musk told Insider in 2015. "I was working too hard, my kids had to be responsible for themselves."
Elon Musk in particular had tried his hardest in school, but only in the subjects he liked, Maye Musk said.
"He knew everything, but he was the youngest and the smallest in his class," she said in 2015.
Elon Musk took an interest in books, computer programming, and investing early on. While the Tesla CEO most recently announced he has made a $44 billion decision to buy Twitter, even at 14 years old Maye Musk said Elon Musk had shown a passion for investing. Last week, Maye Musk recalled how she helped her teenage son invest 1000 South African Rands into a stock he felt passionate about.
Although Maye Musk says she didn't have much influence on the success of her children, she played a big role in helping both of her sons get their first company up and running.
Her 'best investment ever'
In 1995, Elon Musk and Kimbal Musk started Zip2, a software company that provided business directories and maps to media companies and ecommerce clients.
At the time, Maye Musk was running her dietetics practice in Toronto and was preparing to publish her first book, "Feel Fantastic."
In addition to the multiple jobs she held at the time, Maye Musk worked tirelessly to help her sons start their first business.
She started by encouraging Kimbal Musk to get more involved in the business after he had racked up her phone bill by constantly calling Elon Musk, who had moved to Silicon Valley.
"[Kimbal Musk] would come over to my office at night to discuss business with Elon by phone," she said. "When my phone account reached $800 per month, I told Kimbal to stop working and join Elon."
Since Maye Musk still lived in Toronto when Zip2 was getting started, she would fly out to Silicon Valley every six weeks. Maye Musk said she helped her sons with everything from the company's business plan to supervising interns and taking care of printing and office expenses. She also bought them food, clothes, and furniture at the time.
Some time around 1996, Maye Musk donated all of her savings, which amounted to $10,000, to cover the office rental and expenses.
She calls it her "best investment ever."
Maye Musk was even up until 2 a.m. with Kimbal Musk at Kinko's helping him print out colored copies of Zip2's presentations to investors.
"That night we were exhausted and exhilarated," she said in 2015. "We went to the best restaurant in Palo Alto and I told them this was the last time I would use my credit card for our dinners. And that has been true."
By 1997 and 1998, Zip2 began to really take off, and both Elon Musk and Kimbal Musk became busier with board meetings. So Maye Musk was asked to meet with the company every week while running her practice and juggling modeling gigs.
"I would rent a car every Friday night, do the Nordstrom fashion shows on Saturday morning at 8:30 am in San Francisco, San Jose, or Sacramento, and then drive to their office for our weekly business meeting," she said in 2015.
Her children made — and kept — an ambitious promise
Maye Musk eventually moved to San Francisco for two-and-a-half years to be closer to her children and the business before moving to New York in 1999.
Back when the brothers and Tosca Musk were all working at Zip2, before the company sold, they couldn't afford to buy a big gift for their mother's 50th birthday.
Instead, they made her a promise.
"They gave me a little toy house and a little toy car the size of a matchbox and said, 'One day we'll buy you the real thing,'" she said.
Zip2 eventually sold to Compaq Computer for around $300 million, and the Musk children kept their word.
Since, Maye Musk has been an outspoken supporter of Elon Musk on social media. Most recently, she repeatedly derided the Biden Administration for largely ignoring Tesla's role in the movement toward electric cars.
Maye Musk previously told Insider in 2015 that she wishes the world would understand the well-intentioned mind of her son.
"Elon's intention is just to do whatever is possible in physics and engineering to make this planet better," she said. "People think there's an ulterior motive, but there isn't. That's all he's striving to do. And that really upsets me, when they think 'Oh, he's looking for more money.' No, he's never done that."
Now, most of Maye Musk's days are spent modeling, promoting her latest book, and maintaining her nutrition practice. Maye Musk has been signed by the Creative Artists Agency (CAA).
But she and her children still find time to meet regularly. Outside of accompanying Elon Musk to the Met Gala earlier this month, the supermodel also made a cameo appearance in the billionaire's Saturday Night Live performance in 2021.
Maye Musk has fully taken on the role of grandmother to Elon Musk's many children. In 2020, she posted several photos and videos of the billionaire's seventh child, X Æ A-12.
"We do a lot of get-togethers," she told Insider in 2015. "And I'm really fortunate to have three wonderful kids. We're in a good position now, that we can actually eat roast beef every day if we wanted to. But we wouldn't dare!"
Earlier reporting by Lisa Eadicicco.
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