John Paul Getty III

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John Paul Getty III
John Paul Getty III (2003).jpg
Getty in 2003
Born(1956-11-04)November 4, 1956
DiedFebruary 5, 2011(2011-02-05) (aged 54)
Known forBeing kidnapped
(m. 1974; div. 1993)
ChildrenBalthazar Getty
Parent(s)Sir John Paul Getty
Abigail Harris
RelativesMark Getty (brother)
Ariadne Getty (sister)
J. Paul Getty (paternal grandfather)
Ann Rork Light (paternal grandmother)
George Getty (paternal great-grandfather)
Sam E. Rork (maternal great-grandfather)
Gordon Getty (paternal uncle)

John Paul Getty III (/ˈɡɛti/; November 4, 1956 – February 5, 2011) was the grandson of American oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, who was once the richest man in the world. While living in Rome in 1973, he was kidnapped by the 'Ndrangheta and held for a $17 million ransom. His grandfather was reluctant to pay, but, after his severed ear was received by a newspaper, he negotiated a payment of $2.2 million, and Getty was released five months after being kidnapped. Getty developed an addiction to drug and alcohol soon after, eventually leading to an overdose and stroke which left him severely disabled for the rest of his life.

Early life[edit]

Getty was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.[1][2] He spent most of his childhood in Rome while his father headed the Italian division of the Getty family oil business. His parents divorced in 1964 when he was eight years old, and his father married model and actress Talitha Pol in 1966. The family adopted a hippie lifestyle, spending much time in Britain and Morocco during the 1960s.[3] Getty remained in Italy with his mother Gail and attended St. George's British International School in Rome.[4]

In early 1972, Getty was expelled from St. George's after painting offensive six-feet high wording in a hallway of the school, aimed at the school's headmaster. In July 1971 his stepmother died of a heroin overdose in Rome,[4] and his father moved back to the United Kingdom, partly to escape charges of drug possession which he was facing in Italy. Paul remained in Italy where he lived a bohemian lifestyle, living in a squat, frequenting nightclubs and taking part in left-wing demonstrations. He had considerable artistic talent and reportedly earned a living making jewelry, selling his paintings and cartoons, and appearing in movies as an extra.[5] The Italian adult magazine Playmen paid him $1,000 to appear naked in a spread and on the cover of its August 1973 issue, released a month after he was kidnapped.[6]


Getty was kidnapped in the Piazza Farnese in Rome at 3 a.m. on July 10, 1973, when he was 16.[1] According to his girlfriend Martine Schmidt, he had toyed with the idea of getting himself kidnapped by petty criminals when the couple was struggling to make ends meet, but he had changed his mind because both of them started getting work modelling for photographers. She stated that "Paul didn't want to be kidnapped anymore, but [the kidnappers] were following him."[7] He was blindfolded, transported, and imprisoned in a cave in Calabria.[8] The kidnappers issued a ransom note demanding $17 million (equivalent to $98 million in 2019[9]) in exchange for his safe return, however, the family suspected a plot by the rebellious teenager to extract money from his miserly grandfather.[10]

John Paul Getty Jr. asked his father J. Paul Getty for the money, but his grandfather refused, arguing that his 13 other grandchildren could also become kidnap targets if he paid.[5] The kidnappers sent a second demand, but its arrival was delayed by an Italian postal strike.[10] As time wore on, Paul's treatment by his captors grew worse; they took away his radio, killed a bird that he had taken as a pet, and began playing Russian roulette against his head.[11]

In November 1973, a daily newspaper received an envelope containing a lock of hair, a human ear, and a threat from the kidnappers to mutilate Paul further unless they were paid $3.2 million (equivalent to $18.4 million in 2019[9]). The letter read, "This is Paul's first ear. If within ten days the family still believes that this is a joke mounted by him, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits."[12] Paul's health began to decline rapidly as his wound became infected, combined with pneumonia caused by the cold winter temperatures which were descending. His captors were alarmed at this sudden decline and gave him large doses of penicillin to treat the infection, which caused him to develop an allergy to the antibiotic and further affected his health.[13] Getty's biographer John Pearson attributed his later alcoholism to the large amounts of brandy that he was plied with in the last few months of his captivity to keep him warm and numb his pain.[13]

After Paul's ear was sent, his grandfather agreed to pay no more than $2.2 million (equivalent to $12.7 million in 2019[9])—the maximum amount that was tax deductible—and lent the remainder to his son, who was responsible for repaying the sum at four percent interest.[5] Paul was found alive on December 15, 1973, in a petrol station of Lauria in the province of Potenza shortly after the ransom was paid.[14] At his mother's suggestion, he called his grandfather to thank him for paying the ransom, but J. Paul Getty refused to come to the phone.[5]

Nine of the kidnappers were apprehended, including Girolamo Piromalli and Saverio Mammoliti, high-ranking members of the 'Ndrangheta, an organized crime organization in Calabria.[14] Two of the kidnappers were convicted and sent to prison; the others were acquitted for lack of evidence, including the 'Ndrangheta bosses. Most of the ransom money was never recovered.[5][15] In 1977, Getty had an operation to rebuild the ear that his kidnappers had cut off.[1]

Later life and death[edit]

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, and he was 18 years old when his son Balthazar was born in 1975. The couple divorced in 1993.[1]

Getty acted in some European films, playing supporting parts in Raúl Ruiz's The Territory and in Wim Wenders's The State of Things.[16] He and his wife lived for a time in New York City where they consorted with Andy Warhol's art crowd.[5]

Getty was permanently affected by his kidnapping and suffered from drug and alcohol addiction during the years that followed.[5] In 1981, he drank a Valium, methadone, and alcohol cocktail which caused liver failure and a stroke, leaving him quadriplegic, partially blind, and unable to speak.[17][18] Afterwards, his mother cared for him, and she sued his father for $28,000 a month to cover his medical needs.[5] He never fully recovered and remained severely handicapped for the rest of his life. By 1987, however, he was able to regain some degree of autonomy, and he was able to ski when strapped to a metal frame.[16]

In 1999, Getty and several other members of his family became citizens of the Republic of Ireland in return for investments of approximately £1 million each, under a law which has since been repealed.[19]

Getty died at his father's estate at Wormsley Park, Buckinghamshire, on February 5, 2011, aged 54, following a long illness. He had been in poor health since his 1981 drug overdose.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

A. J. Quinnell used Getty's kidnapping as one piece of inspiration for his book Man on Fire.[20] The 1995 book Painfully Rich: the Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson includes significant content on Getty's kidnapping ordeal.[21] The book was adapted to the 2017 film All the Money in the World, directed by Sir Ridley Scott. In the film, J. Paul Getty is played by Christopher Plummer and John Paul Getty III is played by Charlie Plummer (as an adult) and Charlie Shotwell (at age 7).[22] The story of the kidnapping was also adapted into the 2018 television series Trust, produced by Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle, with Harris Dickinson as John Paul Getty III.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Getty obituary". The Daily Telegraph. February 7, 2011. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
  2. ^ "Obituary: John Paul Getty III, grandson of oil tycoon, who had ear cut off in kidnapping". The Scotsman. February 8, 2011.
  3. ^ "Style » Talitha Getty: The Myth and the Muse". Dossier Journal. Archived from the original on February 22, 2015. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Sanchez, Tony (1996). Up and Down with the Rolling Stones: The Inside Story. Da Capo Press. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-306-80711-4.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h J. Paul Getty III, 54, Dies; Had Ear Cut Off by Captors, The New York Times, February 7, 2011
  6. ^ Nicolaou, Elena. "The Risqué Italian Magazine That J. Paul Getty III Appeared In Has A Controversial History". Retrieved April 3, 2018.
  7. ^ Julie Miller (April 8, 2018). "Trust: Did Paul Getty Really Stage His Kidnapping, as 'Trust' Suggests?". Vanity Fair. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  8. ^ Gucci, Patricia (May 10, 2016). In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir. Crown/Archetype. ISBN 978-0-8041-3894-9.
  9. ^ a b c Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved January 1, 2020.
  10. ^ a b "Sir Paul Getty". The Daily Telegraph. April 17, 2003. Retrieved March 1, 2008.
  11. ^ Julie Miller (April 1, 2018). "Trust: The Story Behind Brendan Fraser's Brilliant, Oddball Character". Vanity Fair. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  12. ^ Washington Post, report on Getty's death, February 7, 2011
  13. ^ a b Pearson, John (1995). Painfully Rich. p. 193.
  14. ^ a b Catching the Kidnappers, Time, January 28, 1974
  15. ^ "J. Paul Getty III dies at 54; scion of oil dynasty", Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2011
  16. ^ a b John Paul Getty III obituary, The Daily Telegraph, (London). February 7, 2011
  17. ^ J. Paul Getty III, 54, Dies; Had Ear Cut Off by Captors The New York Times, February 7, 2011.
  18. ^ "Obituary for John Paul Getty II", BBC News, April 17, 2003
  19. ^ "Jean Paul Getty III Dead; 5 Facts on the Oil Heir and Father of Actor Balthazar Getty". In News Today. February 8, 2011. Archived from the original on March 20, 2014. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
  20. ^ Davies, Paul (2010). "Be not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good': The Theology of Evil in Man on Fire". In Billias, Nancy (ed.). Promoting and Producing Evil. Rodopi. pp. 219–234. ISBN 978-90-420-2939-2.
  21. ^ 1930–, Pearson, John (1995). Painfully rich : the outrageous fortune and misfortunes of the heirs of J. Paul Getty (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0312135799. OCLC 32820398.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  22. ^ Scott, Ridley (December 22, 2017). All the Money in the World. Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer, Michelle Williams. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  23. ^ Holloway, Daniel (May 15, 2017). "FX's 'Trust' Casts Harris Dickinson as J. Paul Getty III". Variety. Retrieved May 15, 2017.

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