Tony Stark Was Based on a Real Person (And You Couldn't Ask For a Better Fit)

Tony Stark Was Based on a Real Person (And You Couldn't Ask For a Better Fit)
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Genius. Billionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist.

That's how Tony Stark described himself in 2012's Avengers, but it just as well could be describing his real-world influence: Early 20th-century business magnate Howard Hughes.

The mind behind Tony Stark/Iron Man – Stan Lee – revealed in a 1997 Bullpen Bulletin that he, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby used Hughes as an influence when crafting their troubled billionaire superhero.

Revitalized for 21st-century audiences with Leonardo DiCaprio 's portrayal of Hughes in The Aviator, Hughes was a one-of-a-kind industrialist. He had his hands in several different industries, including his role as one of the most prominent film producers of his era. In his later years, this was overshadowed by his increasingly eccentric behavior.

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Stan Lee described Hughes as "one of the most colorful men of our time."

"He was an inventor, an adventurer, a multi-billionaire, a ladies' man, and finally, a nutcase." Sounds just like our hero, Tony Stark.

Like Stark, Hughes was born into his wealth – his father, Howard Sr., was a successful inventor and businessman. Also like Stark, Hughes took his family's money and exceeded all expectations in surpassing his father's business ventures.

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Hughes was also obsessed with air travel, having set the transcontinental airspeed record from LA to Neward in 1937. He famously survived four airplane accidents, including one that almost took his life in 1946. Stark, on the other hand, preferred a different method of aerospace travel.

The two are prototypical popular billionaires with a hidden demon; Tony struggled with alcoholism, Hughes' obsessive behavior turned dark in his later years. "Without being crazy, [Stark] was Howard Hughes," Stan Lee said.

While looking for inspiration to create their ultra-cool, eccentric billionaire superhero, Hughes was an obvious place to start. When Jon Favreau was hired to write and direct the debut of a live-action Iron Man, he took a more modernized path.

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Favreau said that Robert Downey, Jr. 's take on Stark was highly influenced by Elon Musk, the controversial billionaire who recently purchased Twitter. He made sure to say that it wasn't based on Musk, but that he was influenced by him. Favreau became friends with Musk while getting insight into how Stark should act, and Musk eventually cameoed as himself in Iron Man 2. Musk even let them film at a SpaceX warehouse for free.

Thanks to Stan Lee's inspiration from Hughes, Stark quickly became one of the most popular characters in Marvel Comics. He was a leader of the Avengers, starred in a cartoon in the 1990s, and has since become one of the most recognizable movie characters of this generation.