LONDON (AP) — J. Paul Getty III, the troubled grandson of one of the world’s richest men who lost an ear in a grisly kidnapping as a teenager and suffered a devastating stroke as a young man, has died. He was 54.
His son, the actor, Balthazar Getty confirmed that his father had died at his Buckinghamshire estate northwest of London Feb. 5, surrounded by his family. The cause of death was not disclosed, but Getty had been gravely ill for some time.
Getty’s life captured the turmoil of his times. Born to vast oil wealth that measures in the billions of dollars, he was used a pawn when he was kidnapped for ransom and later embraced the hippie counterculture of the late 1960s and 1970s, which would later would prove to be his downfall.
He was kidnapped in Rome at the age of 16 and his captors cut off part of his ear and mailed it to an Italian newspaper to enforce their ransom demands. The mutilation reportedly helped sway Getty’s family who had been reluctant to pay — he was freed after five months in captivity and a payment of $2.7 million.
When J. Paul III obtained his freedom, he enthusiastically embraced a life of drugs and parties. He married Gisella Getty, who also went by the name Martine. The union produced his son, Balthazar.
Pictures from that time show Getty looking like a young rock star, with tight blue jeans and ringlets of hair cascading to his shoulders. Although he made few public pronouncements, the fact that a grandson of the multibillionaire founder of the Getty Oil Company had apparently embraced flower power did not go unnoticed.
But the Getty family history is riddled with drug-related woes: J. Paul III’s father struggled with a well-publicized drug addition, and his stepmother died from a drug overdose.
J. Paul III also went too far in his drug and alcohol use. While undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse in 1981, he suffered a life-altering stroke that left him paralyzed, unable to speak and in need of around-the-clock care. Newspaper reports indicated the stroke was drug related, but details were not released.
J. Paul III was rarely seen in the public eye afterward, and soon enough drifted from public consciousness, even as his family name became associated with philanthropy and the arts.
The troubled family rose to global prominence with the phenomenal success of his grandfather, the late J. Paul Getty, who built Getty Oil into a $6 billion fortune — making him the world’s richest man in his day.
J. Paul Getty was known for his tightfisted approach, reportedly installing a pay telephone in one of his residences so that family and friends would not be able to place long distance calls at his expense.
He also built one of the world’s great art collections, which formed the basis of the J. Paul Getty Museum — a cultural centerpiece in the Los Angeles area.
His son, John Paul Getty Jr., made charitable donations that totaled more than $200 million in Britain alone to causes related to everything from cricket to needy children. But the generosity did not extend to J. Paul Getty Jr.’s own family — the reclusive multimillionaire initially refused to pay for J. Paul III’s steep monthly medical bills but relented in the face of a lawsuit from his first wife, Gail Harris, with whom he had three other children.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair for decades, the father of two and grandfather of six “never let his handicap keep him from living life to the fullest and he was an inspiration to all of us, showing us how to stand up to all adversity,” Balthazar said in a statement issued by his publicist. “We will miss him terribly.”
Balthazar has starred in film and TV productions. He is currently appearing on the hit ABC network drama “Brothers & Sisters.”
In addition to his children and grandchildren, J. Paul III is survived by his mother, Gail Harris and his siblings, including Getty Images co-founder Mark Getty and prominent AIDS activist Aileen Getty.
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