Troubled grandson of US oil magnate

JOHN PAUL GETTY III: JOHN PAUL Getty III, who has died at the age of 54, was the grandson of the man who founded Getty Oil, …

JOHN PAUL GETTY III:JOHN PAUL Getty III, who has died at the age of 54, was the grandson of the man who founded Getty Oil, a Texas-based petroleum company that made the family among the richest in America. But they were also prone to extraordinary meanness to each other and to internecine bickering.

John Paul III had what seems from the outside to have been a fairly miserable life. An out-of-control spoilt-brat teenager in Rome, he was kidnapped and mutilated while in captivity. On his release, he descended into a life of alcohol and drug abuse.

In 1981, consumption of a mixture of valium, methadone and alcohol resulted in liver failure and a stroke which left him quadriplegic and nearly blind.

He became an Irish citizen under the controversial investment for passports scheme. With six other members of the Getty family, he was given Irish citizenship in exchange for buying substantial residences in Ireland and investing €1 million each in job creation schemes.


Getty, his sister and mother loaned money to Punchestown racecourse for redevelopment, a venture that has been continuously plagued with problems and legal battles.

John Paul Getty III was born in 1956 in Rome, the grandson of J Paul Getty I, one of the world’s richest – and meanest – men. Guests in his home had to use a pay telephone.

In Rome, John Paul Getty III’s father, John Paul Getty II, managed the family’s Italian oil interests. His parents were divorced when he was eight and he lived in the city, mostly with his mother.

He had little interest in his school work and was reputed to have been expelled from seven schools. By the age of 16, he was living in an apartment with two painter friends.

One night, having left a nightclub, he was abducted by a Mafia gang but it was some time before his relatives realised that this was not one of his pranks to extract money from them.

His kidnappers, tired of the slow reactions to their ransom demands of $17 million, cut off a lock of his hair and part of his ear and posted them to a Rome newspaper. At the time, there was a postal strike so that when the envelope with its grisly contents arrived, the ear was in an advanced state of decomposition.

“This is Paul’s ear,” said the ransom note. “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.”

The grandfather baulked at paying a ransom, saying: “I have 14 grandchildren and if I pay a penny of ransom, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”

But eventually he agreed a ransom payment, although he would only contribute $2.2 million because that was the maximum amount that was tax deductible. The rest he loaned to his son John Paul II on the basis that it would be repaid at an interest rate of 4 per cent.

By the time of his release, John Paul III had spent five months in the hands of his kidnappers, who moved him between caves in the mountains or derelict houses and often kept him tied to a stake.

The year after his abduction, John Paul Getty III married a German film actress, Martine Zacher, thereby cutting himself out of his grandfather’s will as J Paul Getty I did not approve of early marriages for his descendants. John Paul III and Zacher had one son, the actor Balthazar Getty.

Still traumatised from his experiences of being kidnapped, drugs and drink took over John Paul Getty III’s life and although he did try to kick the habit in Los Angeles in order to study Chinese history, he suffered a massive stroke which left him a quadriplegic with impaired vision and difficulties in communication.

John Paul Getty II, who was knighted for his philanthropic work in England, had to be taken to court to finance care and treatment for his son. In 2007, Getty himself funded the John Paul Getty III chair of epilepsy at King’s College, London.

In 1998 he bought Gurthalougha House in Ballinderry, on the shores of Lough Derg in Co Tipperary. The house had previously been part of the Hidden Ireland network of upmarket country house accommodation.

It was extensively refurbished and there were four indoor and four outdoor staff. Getty and his mother, who looked after him, spent much time at Gurthalougha where, in spite of his disabilities, he once said he had been happier than in any other place.

By 2010, he found that it was more convenient to live in his houses in other countries and Gurthalougha has been on the market again, for sale for €5.2 million, since last September.

Getty and his wife were divorced in 1992. He died at his home in Buckinghamshire and he is survived by his son.

John Paul Getty III: born November 4th, 1956; died February 5th, 2011