John Paul Getty III (4 or 5 November 1956 – 5 February 2011), also known as Paul Getty, was the eldest of the four children of John Paul Getty Jr. and Abigail (née Harris), and the grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. His son is actor Balthazar Getty.
|John Paul Getty III|
Getty in 2003
4 November 1956|
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
5 February 2011 (aged 54)|
|Known for||Being kidnapped|
|Spouse(s)||Gisela Martine Getty (née Schmidt; m. 1974; div. 1993)|
John Paul Getty Jr. |
Mark 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)
Getty 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. Getty remained in Rome with his mother Gail and attended St. George's British International School. In early 1972, he 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. Later that year, his stepmother died of a heroin overdose in Rome, and his father moved back to the United Kingdom. Paul remained in Italy where he lived a bohemian lifestyle, frequenting nightclubs and taking part in left-wing demonstrations. He was endowed with considerable artistic talent and reportedly earned a living making jewelry, selling paintings, and appearing in movies as an extra. The Italian 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.
Getty was kidnapped in the Palazzo Farnese in Rome at 3 a.m. on 10 July 1973 when he was 16. According to his girlfriend Martine Schmidt, he had toyed with the idea of getting himself kidnapped by petty criminals when the couple were struggling to make ends meet, but he 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." He was blindfolded, transported, and imprisoned in a cave. The kidnappers issued a ransom note demanding $17 million (equivalent to $94 million in 2017) in exchange for his safe return. When that message arrived, some family members suspected that the kidnapping was merely a ploy by Getty, as he had frequently joked about staging his own kidnapping to extract money from his wealthy grandfather. The kidnappers sent a second demand, but it was delayed by an Italian postal strike.
John Paul Getty Jr. asked his father J. Paul Getty for the money, but his father refused, fearing that his 13 other grandchildren could also be kidnapped if he paid. 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.
In November 1973, a daily newspaper received an envelope containing a lock of red hair, a human ear, and a threat from the kidnappers to mutilate Paul further unless they were paid $3.2 million (equivalent to $17.6 million in 2017). 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." 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, which caused him to develop an allergy to the antibiotic and further affected his health. 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.
After Paul's ear was cut off, his grandfather negotiated a deal to get him back for about $2.9 million (equivalent to $16 million in 2017). He paid $2.2 million—the maximum amount that was tax deductible—and lent the remainder to his son, who was responsible for repaying the sum at 4% interest. Paul was found alive on 15 December 1973 in a petrol station of Lauria in the province of Potenza shortly after the ransom was paid. 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.
Nine of the kidnappers were apprehended, including Girolamo Piromalli and Saverio Mammoliti, high-ranking members of the 'Ndrangheta, a Mafia organization in Calabria. 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. In 1977, Getty had an operation to rebuild the ear that his kidnappers had cut off.
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.
Getty acted in some European films, playing supporting parts in Raúl Ruiz's The Territory and in Wim Wenders's The State of Things. He and his wife lived for a time in New York City where they consorted with Andy Warhol's art crowd.
Getty was permanently affected by his kidnapping and suffered from drug and alcohol addiction during the years that followed. 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. Afterwards, his mother cared for him, and he sued his father for $28,000 a month to cover his medical needs. 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.
In 1999, Getty and several other members of his family became citizens of Ireland in return for investments of approximately £1 million each, under a law which has since been repealed.
Getty died at Wormsley Park, Buckingamshire on 5 February 2011, aged 54, following a long illness. He had been in poor health since his 1981 drug overdose. He was survived by his son and his mother.
A. J. Quinnell used Getty's kidnapping as one piece of inspiration for his book Man on Fire. 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. The book was adapted to the 2017 film All the Money in the World, directed by Ridley Scott. John Paul Getty III is played by Charlie Plummer and, as a young boy, by Charlie Shotwell. The kidnapping is also dramatized in the 2018 television series Trust, directed by Danny Boyle, with Harris Dickinson as John Paul Getty III.