The tragic life of John Paul Getty III

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Most people will be aware of the name Getty be it from Getty Oil or Getty Images

Getty Oil was founded by J.Paul Getty sr. in 1957 Fortune magazine named him the richest living American,while the 1966 Guinness Book of Records named him as the world’s richest private citizen, worth an estimated $1.2 billion (approximately $8.8 billion in 2016).At his death, he was worth more than $2 billion (approximately $8.3 billion in 2016). A book published in 1996 ranked him as the 67th richest American who ever lived, based on his wealth as a percentage of the gross national product.

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Despite his wealth, Getty was notably frugal.Getty famously had a pay phone installed at Sutton Place, helping to seal his reputation as a miser. Getty placed dial-locks on all the regular telephones, limiting their use to authorized staff, and the coin-box telephone was installed for others.

He famously negotiated his grandson’s, John Paul Getty III, ransom.

At 3 a.m. on 10 July 1973, Getty, then age 16, was kidnapped in the Piazza Farnese in Rome.A ransom note was received, demanding $17 million in exchange for his safe return. When that ransom message arrived, some family members suspected the kidnapping was merely a ploy by the rebellious youngster as he had frequently joked about staging his own kidnapping to extract money from his frugal grandfather. He was blindfolded and imprisoned in a mountain hideout. A second demand was received, but had been delayed by an Italian postal strike.John Paul Getty, Jr. asked his father for the money, but was refused.

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Getty Sr. argued that were he to pay the ransom, then his 14 other grandchildren could also be kidnapped. In November 1973, an envelope containing a lock of hair and a human ear was delivered to a daily newspaper with a threat of further mutilation of Paul, unless $3.2 million was paid: “This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits.”

At this point Getty Sr. agreed to pay a ransom, although he would only pay $2.2 million, because that was the maximum amount that was tax deductible. He loaned the remainder to his son who was responsible for repaying the sum at 4% interest. The reluctant Getty Sr. negotiated a deal and got his grandson back for about $2.9 million. Getty III was found alive in a filling station of Lauria, in the province of Potenza, on 15 December 1973, shortly after the ransom was paid.

Nine of the kidnappers were apprehended, including a carpenter, an hospital orderly, an ex-con and an olive-oil dealer from Calabria, as well as high-ranking members of the ‘Ndrangheta — a Mafia-type organization in Calabria — such as Girolamo Piromalli and Saverio Mammoliti. Two were convicted and sent to prison; the others, including the ‘Ndrangheta bosses, were acquitted for lack of evidence. Most of the ransom money was never recovered.In 1977, Getty had an operation to rebuild the ear that had been cut off by his kidnappers.

Getty spent most of his childhood in Rome, Italy, while his father headed the Italian division for the Getty family’s oil business. His parents divorced in 1964 and his father married again in 1966 to model and actress Talitha Pol.

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They adopted a hippie lifestyle and spent much time in England and Morocco during the 1960s. Getty stayed in boarding school at St. George’s English School (later St. George’s British International School), in Rome. In early 1971, he was expelled from St. Georges after having painted the hallways of the school one night, taking inspiration from Charles Manson’s Helter Skelter. Later that year, his stepmother died of a heroin overdose in Rome.While his father moved back to England, he remained in Italy, where he lived a bohemian life, frequented nightclubs, and took part in left-wing demonstrations. Endowed with a considerable artistic inclination, he reportedly earned a living making jewelry, selling paintings and appearing as an extra in movies.

In 1974, Getty married German Gisela Martine Zacher (née Schmidt), who was five months pregnant. He had known her and her twin sister Jutta since before his kidnapping. Getty was 18 years old when his son, Balthazar, was born in 1975. The couple divorced in 1993.Getty tried his hand at acting in European films: he played supporting parts in Raúl Ruiz’ The Territory and in Wim Wenders’s The State of Things, which was shot at the same time as Ruiz’s film, using part of its cast and crew.

Getty was an alcoholic and drug addict. In 1981, he imbibed a valium, methadone, and alcohol cocktail which caused liver failure and a stroke, leaving him a quadriplegic and nearly blind. He never fully recovered and remained severely handicapped for the rest of his life. By 1987, however, a daily regime of exercise, physiotherapy and speech therapy during which he reportedly showed “extraordinary willpower,” had helped him regain some degree of autonomy.

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He could again visit concerts and cinema, and was even able to ski, when strapped to a metal frame.

In 1999, Getty, along with several other members of his family, became citizens of the Republic of Ireland as part of the “Passports for Investment” scheme of approximately £1 million each, under a law which has since been repealed.They lived in the Gurthalougha House, on the shores of Lough Derg here in Co Tipperary.

Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, also purchased eleven Irish passports in 1990 as part of this scheme.

On 5 February 2011, aged 54, Getty died at Wormsley, Buckinghamshire, following a long illness. He had been in poor health since his 1981 drug overdose. He was survived by his son and his mother.

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