"If you can count your money, you don't have a billion dollars."
- J. Paul Getty
Getty. The name conjures up images of wealth and power.
Jean Paul Getty (1892-1976), commonly known as J P Getty and J Paul Getty, was an American industrialist who founded the Getty Oil Company. 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 $8.7 billion in 2014). At his death, he was worth more than $2 billion (approximately $8.3 billion in 2014).
Despite his wealth, Getty was known for being a miser and a nasty, miserable man.
Married and divorced five times, he had five sons with four of his wives. His fifth wife, Louise Lynch, revealed in her memoirs that he had scolded her for spending too much money on treatment of their 6 year old son Timmy, who had become blind from a brain tumour and who died at age 12. Getty did not attend the funeral.
According to Getty, "A lasting relationship with a woman is only possible if you are a business failure.”
In the late years of his life, alone and unloved, he looked to his mediocre art collection to build his legacy. When he died in 1976, he left his fortune to the small Malibu museum that bore his name, making it the world’s richest museum overnight.
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John Paul Getty, the son of Jean Paul Getty, was born from Getty’s marriage to Anne Rork. Born Eugene Paul Getty, in later life he adopted other names, including Paul Getty, John Paul Getty, Jean Paul Getty, Jr. and John Paul Getty II. His life was not a happy one and included depression and drug addiction.
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On 10 July, 1973, Getty Jnr’s eldest son, John Paul Getty 111, was kidnapped in Rome by Calabraian mobsters and held for ransom. Getty 111 had been expelled from a private school, was living on his own and was enjoying a life of nightclubs, left-wing demonstrations and reportedly of earning a living making jewelry, selling paintings and acting as an extra in movies.
Young Getty was held in a cave in the Calabrian mountains and a $17m ransom demand was made. Getty 11, the boy’s father, did not have enough money to pay the ransom, so he approached his father, Getty 1, for financial assistance.
Getty 1 refused, saying "I have 14 other grandchildren, and if I pay one penny now, then I will have 14 kidnapped grandchildren."
There was suspicion at the time that young Getty was himself involved in a staged kidnap to gouge money from his grandfather.
This suspicion, however, went away in November when one of the boy’s ears arrived at a daily newspaper. The demand had been delayed 3 weeks because of an Italian postal strike. The demand which accompanied the ear reduced the amount sought to $3.2m and stated "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.”
Eventually the demand was reduced to $3m.
Getty 11 went back to Getty 1 and again requested Getty 1’s assistance to save his grandchild.
Bear in mind that at that time Getty 1 was one of the world’s richest men.
Getty agreed to pay $2.2m, the maximum that would be tax deductible.
The remaining $800,000 he advanced to his son as a loan at 4% interest.
The ransom was paid and Getty 111 was released.
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Paul Getty 111 on 15 December 1973 after release
When Young Getty called to thank his grandfather for paying the ransom, his grandfather refused to come to the phone.
A year after his release, at age 18, Getty 111 married Martine Zacher, who was six years his senior. His grandfather disapproved of his marrying so young and disinherited him. When Getty 1 died in 1976, he left $500 to his son and nothing to his grandson.
Getty 111 never recovered from the ordeal. He became a drug addict and died in 2011, aged 54. Following a stroke in 1981 brought on by drugs and alcohol, he had been speechless, nearly blind and partially paralysed for the rest of his life.
Getty 111 at his father’s funeral in 2003
In 1976 Getty 1 defended his initial refusal to pay the ransom:
I contend that acceding to the demands of criminals and terrorists merely guarantees the continuing increase and spread of lawlessness, violence and such outrages as terror-bombings, "skyjackings" and the slaughter of hostages that plague our present-day world.