The Getty Kidnapping and the Real Life Poor Little Rich Boy

Mar 14, 2011 - by Denise Noe

John Paul Getty III

John Paul Getty III

By the time John Paul Getty III died on February 5, 2011 – at age 54 – he had lost far more than the ear his Italian kidnappers had sliced off when he was 17 years old.

by Denise Noe

The old saying that “money can’t buy happiness” may never have been more dramatically illustrated than by the life of the recently deceased Jean Paul Getty III, grandson of the wealthiest man on earth. His father was scion Jean Paul Getty II and his mother was former actress Gail Harris. Paul, as Jean Paul Getty III would be called, was the oldest of four children.

It was quite unlikely that when he was born in England on November 4, 1956 that he would become best known for a crime committed against him. Grandfather J.  Paul Getty, a billionaire oil tycoon, described Paul during his early boyhood as “a bright, red-haired little rascal” and called him “most cheerful and cute.” The Los Angeles Times reported that as a toddler Paul “was said to be one of his grandfather’s favorites.” 

J. Paul Getty was often described by the moniker of The Richest Man in The World. Despite his vast fortune, he continued being a workaholic into his elderly years, putting in hours each day to try to make his almost unimaginable wealth even larger. He was also known for certain eccentricities such as an intermittent phobia of the telephone.

Early in Paul’s childhood, Jean Paul Getty II took his family to Rome where he ran the division of the family’s old business located there.

Although his grandfather was impressed by Paul’s cheerfulness as a young boy, Paul saw himself as always being “distant from people, even as a small child.”

From an early age, he felt that living in the shadow of his grandfather’s reputation was a profoundly mixed blessing. He said, “I knew there was a difference between being born a Getty and being born a Smith.” The child also knew that a boy born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth would inspire hostility in the economically deprived. “We had a Rolls-Royce in Rome and sometimes I would sink down in the seat so people couldn’t see me,” he stated. “I could see the envy in their eyes. It made me a little scared to go out.”

In 1964, when Paul was 9, his parents divorced. Jean Paul II left Gail for Talitha Pol, step-granddaughter of the famous painter Augustus John. Young Paul was at best ambivalent about the upheaval in his life having never felt a close relationship with his father and never feeling that he really knew him very well.

After the divorce, Paul rarely saw his father who traveled through England and North Africa during the mid-to-late 1960s. Jean Paul II also spent much time “high” on a variety of drugs.

In 1966, Gail married actor Lang Jeffries. They moved to Brentwood, a Los Angeles suburb.  The boy, deprived of a strong relationship with his father, never developed closeness to his stepfather. “Jeffries tried to communicate with me on a man-to-man tough-guy level, which was a disaster,” Paul remembered.

After a year, Gail left Jeffries and took her children back to Rome.

 

An angry and troubled boy

As he moved into adolescence, Paul was essentially unmoored, displaying increasing signs of deep emotional disturbance. His fellow students liked him because he was clownish and, in his own words, “made people laugh.”

Beneath the surface, Paul roiled with an extreme hostility to the authority of schoolteachers. The schools he attended allowed corporal punishment but the rebellious Paul frequently grabbed a ruler from a teacher and hit the teacher back. He frequently skipped classes and stole examination papers.

In a boarding school he lit a billboard on fire with his new Zippo lighter. Smoke wafted throughout the school.  Relishing the mayhem he had caused, Paul happily offered to lead a teacher to the source of the fire. Not surprisingly they figured out who had set it and Paul was expelled.

If a teacher said something that rubbed Paul wrong, or even just told him to sit down, the boy would stick his finger down his throat and make himself vomit all over his desk.

In all, Paul was expelled from seven schools, the last in 1971.

Such flamboyant misbehavior might be seen as a plea for help. The peculiarly grotesque protest of habitual forced vomiting might suggest a need to degrade himself, perhaps in reaction to the perception that a Getty must be privileged or the feeling of being perpetually overshadowed by the Getty name.

Yet there is no evidence that his family, which could easily afford the top psychiatrists, ever sought professional help for this violence prone and self-destructive boy.

During Paul’s teen years, he frequently attended parties and, like his absent father, often indulged in mood-altering illegal drugs. He also frequently drank. He did not become addicted or alcoholic but made use of booze and drugs on occasion for thrills.

He loved driving fast in both cars and motorcycles and frequently crashed his vehicles. In an interview for the Rolling Stone, Paul said, “I was a real menace to Rome. I went really fast, had 20 or 30 accidents. I’ve had the most horrible accidents but have never been badly hurt.” He attributed his penchant for crashes to a simple love of speed, saying simply, “I like to go fast.”

He adopted the hippie style then current. He was especially fond of wearing sunglasses and grew his hair long. On visits with J. Paul Getty, the grandfather occasionally asked, “Why do you have such long hair?” Paul answered, “Why not have it?”

Paul’s life was an aimless round of parties, discos, drinking, drugging, fast drives punctuated by crashes, and casual sex cut off from caring or commitment.

Unlike many other young people of the time period, he was apolitical. A classic rebel without a cause, he had no desire to change the world. He did not care about the Vietnam War because, he said, “It wasn’t my war.” Regarding poverty, the grandson of the world’s richest man stated, “It’s the way it is and it’s the way it always will be.” He also said about poverty, “I feel guilty, yes, but I don’t do anything about it.”  Perhaps guilt and self-consciousness at being associated with wealth through sheer accident of birth rather than any efforts of his own contributed to his frantically escapist lifestyle.

He was, however, once arrested on suspicion of throwing a Molotov cocktail during a political demonstration in Rome. He said that it was just a misunderstanding because the demonstration took place outside his mother’s home and he happened to get caught outside in the midst of it. He spent a few days in jail. Paul recalled, “Rats were running all around, everyone was raping each other.” He said he had no problems with his fellow inmates because he passed the word around that he had blown up a police station. “They liked that. I was the most respected person in there.”

The police came to believe his innocent by-stander explanation and released him without pressing any charges.  

By the time Paul was 15, he decided to seek a career in art. He sold a few paintings. The slender, handsome youth, who boasted a flowing head of gold-red curls, also posed nude for art life classes. He played bit parts in movies.

At 16, he was living in a small apartment with two friends who were also painters. Although Paul had a name inevitably associated with wealth and looked forward to the possibility of a trust fund in the future, the young man who had been kicked out of school was himself with little money of his own.

Nevertheless, his status as a grandson of The Richest Man in the World led him into horror.

 

A prankster’s hoax?

Despite J. Paul Getty’s extraordinary wealth, he was notoriously stingy. He had a pay phone installed in his mansion for guests who wanted to make calls. The high-spirited teenaged Paul sometimes joked with friends that he would persuade his grandfather to cough up cash by faking his own kidnapping and collecting a ransom on himself.

In July 1973, a Rome newspaper received a letter stating that Jean Paul Getty III had been kidnapped and that his abductors wanted $17 million in ransom for his safe return. Paul’s grandfather and father and mother, as well as the police, suspected that Paul himself, who had been missing since the evening of July 10, had masterminded a hoax. The grandfather refused to pay.

Newspapers reporting the story gave Paul the nickname “The Golden Hippie,” both for his wealthy background and his gold-red hair.

In reality, Paul had been at a party with several friends and was returning home when he was abducted at 3 a.m. in the Piazza Farnese, one of Rome’s famous open squares, by a group of men.

Paul would later say that when the kidnappers first dragged him into their car, they hit him repeatedly on the head with their pistol butts. A cloth was put on his face that may have contained chloroform. He soon fell unconscious.  When he awoke, he was blindfolded and tied with rope around his wrists and ankles.  He was also aware that he was bleeding from his head down the back of his neck.

Paul saw people wearing masks. One told him, “If you want something, ask for it; and if the answer’s yes, you’ll hear one clap. If the answer’s no, you’ll hear two claps. Remember this because nobody will speak to you again.”

The car stopped and Paul was pulled out of it. The captors said nothing and he said nothing. He was laid on a blanket on the ground. He was moved in silence several times during his first day of captivity.

Paul broke the silence when he wanted to eliminate his body waste. Captors picked him up and took him to grassy areas. “They wouldn’t even let me pull down my pants,” he said. “They pulled my pants down for me.”

The kidnappers drove Paul 200 miles to hide him in the mountains of Calabria, a region in southern Italy south of Naples and just north of Sicily.

On the second day in the mountains, the captors brought Paul coffee and cognac. Terrified and helpless, Paul sought solace in alcohol. “They gave me all the booze I wanted and I got drunk,” he commented.

This routine continued for some five days. Then he was escorted out of a car and to a fountain. His blindfold was ripped off and he could see it was night. Again the men were wearing masks. They allowed him to drink from a fountain. One said, “Listen, kid, you’re going to be here a long time. Don’t do anything stupid. Ask for whatever you want, we’ll try to get it for you. Don’t blame us, we’re paid men.”

 

Fingers for friends

Paul soon found himself kept in huts and caves for days at a time. In one hut, he received what he considered his “first proper meal.” Men in masks surrounded him. He believed he could discern things about them by their clothing and manner. “They looked like very ignorant people, very poor, judging from the way they were dressed,” he remembered. “Baggy suits with pastel colors cut very badly. The colors all clashed. Their shoes were loafers that didn’t fit well and their socks were too short.” They displayed their guns to their captive and loaded them in front of him.

Being held captive by “very poor” people may have been especially chilling to Paul. After all, as a child he had been scared by the envy of ordinary people watching him ride in a Rolls Royce. Now he was the prisoner of sociopaths who could give vent to that envy in any manner they choose.

He was asked the addresses of his grandfather, father, and mother. Then they brought envelopes, papers, and a pen to him. They dictated letters to him. One dated July 18 read in part: “Dear Mummy, I have fallen into the hands of kidnappers. Don’t let me be killed. . . . Pay, I beg you, pay up as soon as possible if you wish me well. . . If you delay, it is very dangerous to me. I love you, Paul.” A letter to his grandfather stated: “I know that we haven’t been very close but I hope you know that I love you. Please do whatever you can to get me out of here. This is serious. Love, Paul.”

Despite the letters, family, friends, and authorities continued to believe that Paul was playing a prank. Gail Getty said in public that the feisty and promiscuous Paul might have “run off with a girl” although she continued that she was baffled as to “why he doesn’t call.”

Several of Paul’s disco and party friends told police they doubted he had really been kidnapped. Some thought he might have fabricated the kidnapping just to get headlines since he had been known as a chronic attention hog during his school years. They believed he might have gone to Morocco or to the Swiss Alps to enjoy skiing and his usual fleshly indulgences.

Meanwhile Paul, kept in huts and caves, deprived of normal stimulation and company, was beset by an almost insufferable boredom. He spent hours gazing at his cigarette lighter. “I did weird things like play with my own fingers, make them dance, turn them into statures, contort them into people, make them ballet dancers,” he remembered.

The kidnappers mailed the newspapers a second demand but its delivery was delayed by an Italian postal strike. By this time, Jean Paul II believed that the kidnapping was indeed real. He begged his father for money to free Paul but was refused.

J. Paul Getty issued an explanation to the press for his refusal to give in to the demands of Paul’s kidnappers: “Although I see my grandson infrequently and I am not particularly close to him, I love him nonetheless. However, I don’t believe in paying kidnappers. I have 14 grandchildren and if I pay a penny of ransom, I’ll have fourteen kidnapped grandchildren.”

            In As I See It: The Autobiography of J. Paul Getty, Getty defended his initial refusal to pay a ransom for his grandson.  “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.”

 

Who was The Richest Man in the World?

The story of J. Paul Getty was not one of rags to riches. Rather it is the more usual one of how wealth, properly managed, can build more wealth.

He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on December 15, 1892.  His father was George Getty, the owner of a very successful petroleum business based on Oklahoma oil fields. J. Paul graduated with degrees in economics and political science in 1914 from Magdalen College, Oxford.  During the time he was in college, he spent summers working at his father’s Oklahoma oil base.

J. Paul ran his own oil company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He made his first million by 1916. The next year, he decided to quit work, take the riches he had amassed, and finance a playboy-lifestyle with it in Los Angeles.

George Getty was sorely disappointed in his son’s hedonistic ways. George told J. Paul that he, his father, felt little respect for him but J. Paul carried on with his partying and womanizing.

In 1919, J. Paul returned to Oklahoma – and began adding enormously to his already considerable fortune. He amassed $3 million during the Roaring Twenties.

J. Paul’s success failed to restore his father’s faith in him. When George Getty died in 1930, he left an estate valued at $10 million. According to Dr. Thomas H. Noe, Ernest Butten Professor of Management Studies at University of Oxford in Great Britain, that $10 million in 1930 would equal “about $170 million” today.

A relatively paltry $500,000 [$8.5 million in today’s dollars] was left to his son.   

While much of America struggled during the Great Depression, the wealthy J. Paul made a series of smart investments that dramatically increased his wealth.  Getty acquired Pacific Western Oil Corporation, and he began the acquisition (completed in 1953) of the Mission Corporation, which included Tidewater Oil and Skelly Oil. In 1967 the billionaire merged these holdings into Getty Oil.  He then purchased a 60-year concession to a land area in Saudi Arabia in which no oil had been discovered. Getty’s people found oil in the area four years after he made the purchase. Starting in 1953, Getty was able to pull 16,000,000 barrels of oil per year from it.

In the 1950s, J. Paul moved to Great Britain where he bought and resided in a 16th Century Tudor estate located in Sutton Place near Guildford.

J. Paul had a rocky personal life, marrying and divorcing five times. He had five sons from four of his wives. Jean Paul II was his third son but the first with J. Paul’s fourth wife, Ann (Rork) Getty.

Other than Jean Paul II, the only other Getty son to achieve fame was the younger brother of Jean Paul, Gordon Getty, who is also a son of Ann. Gordon was listed as No. 163 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans in September 2008 with a net worth of $2.5 billion. He is also a classical music composer best known for an opera entitled Plump Jack, Joan and the Bells.

Like his own father’s negativity toward J. Paul, J. Paul was disappointed in Jean Paul II who, in the years prior to Paul’s kidnapping, had dissipated much wealth through a lifestyle similar to J. Paul’s in his younger days.

 

A brutal mutilation

Paul had a hard time keeping track of time during his captivity. He remembered that at one point the captors gave him a transistor radio. On that, he listened to news about his kidnapping. A few days later, he was taken to another hiding place in which he found a few Italian women’s magazines. Just for something to do, he read and obsessively re-read the articles.

From some of the hiding places, he could see the outdoors and often enjoyed the view. He developed an appreciation for small things. “I used to get overjoyed each day to hear my favorite Italian melodrama on the radio,” he said. “Or I’d be out of my head with happiness when there were three sausages in a can instead of two.” However, he had a hard time eating because of the constant fear. The radio was taken away, ending Paul’s only connection to the outside world.

Frustrated by the lack of response from the Getty family, a captor told Paul, “Your grandfather better hurry or else we’ll cut one of your fingers off.” Another time Paul was told, “We’ll send them a piece each month until they pay. We’ll cut you into little pieces for a whole year.”

One night, a captor returned the radio to Paul. Instead of being gratified, Paul was scared. “I knew now that they were planning to do something to me,” he said. “I knew those guys would never just give me something to be nice.”

Paul found himself obsessively looking at his hands, wondering which finger they might amputate and how they might cut it.

The next morning, the captors seemed in unusually high spirits. They told Paul they would give him a haircut. “They cut my hair all the way around my head and they put alcohol where they’d cut the hair and cleaned all around my head.” He was told that the fresh haircut looked good and he should go to bed.

He went to his mattress shivering with terror. “I felt around my head with my hands,” he said. “I knew they weren’t going to cut any of my fingers off. They were going to chop off one of my ears.”

Paul lay trembling on his mattress for roughly an hour when a captor came in bearing freshly cooked steaks. “You’d better eat,” the masked man said.

He ate and kept on eating even when his belly was achingly full to delay the horror to come. When he could no longer force himself to eat, a group of men came in and escorted him into another room. They blindfolded the captive and gave him a handkerchief. They instructed him to put the handkerchief in his mouth and bite down on it.

Men held Paul’s arms, legs, and his head. He bit through the handkerchief and wept as his right ear was cut off.

The captors placed multiple bandages on the bleeding wound where Paul’s right ear had been.

For three days, Paul bled from the mutilated area. The captors gave him regular shots of penicillin. He was given so much penicillin that he became allergic to it.

The boy who had deliberately vomited to defy authority now vomited uncontrollably. He often urinated on himself.

He also had to bottle up the hurt and rage he inevitably felt. He was terrified that if any expression of his feelings slipped out his captors would kill him.

A few days after his mutilation, the captors expressed concern for his life. One of them said, “Listen, you have to move.” They helped him walk around.

After several days, he was moved to a cave he had previously been in. A captor handed him two bottles of whiskey. Then a captor pried off the bandages. Paul remembered that the bandages “had gone hard like a cast from the dried blood.”

A captor took several photographs of the mutilated Paul sitting in a cave.

 “I kept thinking that I wouldn’t be able to wear sunglasses again.” Paul recalled.  “I love sunglasses and it destroyed me to think I couldn’t wear sunglasses because . . . how would I hook them on me”?

 

An ear in the mail

In mid October 1971, captors sealed Paul’s right ear, together with a lock of wavy red hair, into a plastic envelope. Then they wrapped this and a letter into a package and dropped it into a mailbox. It was addressed to Il Messaggero, one of Italy’s most popular newspapers.

The newspaper did not receive the gruesome package until November because of another postal strike that slowed down the mails. When it arrived, the ear was starting to decompose.

The accompanying letter threatened, “This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, the other ear will arrive. In other words he will arrive in little pieces.” An article in the Los Angeles Times reported that the captors included in the letter “photos showing him shorn of the body part.”

A reporter from Il Messaggero called Gail Getty’s attorney and told about the package with the body part. Gail went to the newspaper office. She opened the plastic envelope and felt the ear. Observing its freckles, she was certain it had belonged to her red-haired son.

Photographs of the ear were splashed over Italian newspapers the next day.

The moldy ear and the all-too-believable threat led J. Paul Getty to finally decide that he must take action. Getty negotiated with the kidnappers and they agreed to accept slightly under $3 million for the release of the Paul, who had turned 17 in captivity.

J. Paul Getty paid $2.2 million because that was the maximum amount that was tax deductible. He agreed to loan Jean Paul II the remaining $800,000. Jean Paul II was responsible for repaying the sum at 4 percent interest.

At about this time, Paul believed the captors knew they would soon collect the ransom when “they had music and they were dancing with each other.” He later heard on the radio that a deal had been worked out with the kidnappers. He said his captors “were all acting very jolly, making me do push-ups, making me eat well, making me take long walks. They were being very nice to me – they brought me fresh batteries for my radio, all the booze I wanted.”

“To deliver the money, billionaire Getty, who lives in England, sent to Rome a tall, craggy-faced American, identified by Italian newspapers as Fletcher Chase, 54, of San Diego,” an article in Time reported.  Police microfilmed each banknote of Italian lire that Chase had collected for the ransom before Chase packed it into the sacks he planned to deliver to the captors.

Following the kidnappers’ instruction, Chase traveled toward Naples. In the designated area south of Naples, men in a car pelted Chase’s rented car with pebbles. Men inside the first car also held up their hands, dramatically rubbing their fingers together in a widely recognized sign for money.

Chase pulled over to a side and handed over the sacks filled with lire. A car driven by a Rome plain clothes detective shadowed Chase’s. That car had a pretty blonde policewoman in the passenger seat. Their car stopped and the pair got out and pretended to be tourists taking photographs. They were really trying to get a good look at the kidnapping suspects – which they did.

Back in Rome, the officers identified the man they saw retrieving the ransom. Police nearby shadowed them to find their confederates.

On a rainy afternoon, the captors gave Paul a sweater and a blindfold. They escorted him to a car. He heard several cars behind it. After several hours, the car stopped and captors walked the blindfolded teenager to a grassy area.

Someone said, “Don’t move because somebody’s behind you, we’ll call your mother.”

Paul answered, “OK.”

A man said, “Ciao.”

Paul replied, “Goodbye.”

After he heard the cars drive away, he took the blindfold off. “I wasn’t going to wait around for them to change their minds and come back maybe,” he said. It was late at night and he started walking on the edge of the highway. With bandages on his head and a face reddened and puffed up, he tried to hitchhike. No one stopped.

A frantic Paul waved at a truck driver. The trucker stopped and Paul told him, “I’m Paul Getty. Will you give me a ride to a police station?”

The man looked skeptically at the thin, bedraggled, dirty, and bloodstained waif before him. The trucker drove off. Then his radio reported about the search for “The Golden Hippie.” He pulled into a police office and reported what he had just seen.

Police cars raced to the area where the man said he had seen a heavily bandaged young man claiming to be Paul Getty.

The Lagonegro Police Chief recognized Paul Getty. The pair shook hands. Paul recalled, “I shook his hand and noticed that he didn’t have a finger. That kind of freaked me – the first person I shake hands with after my release – he doesn’t have a finger and I don’t have an ear.”

Grateful for the saving of his life, Paul telephoned his grandfather to thank him. J. Paul Getty was having one of his periodic fits of telephone phobia so he would not speak directly to his grandson. An aide answered the phone. Paul told the aide he wanted to thank his grandfather for paying the ransom. The aide relayed the message. Then the aide told Paul that Mr. Getty said he was welcome. Then Paul said another thanks and said goodbye. The aide said Paul’s grandfather wished him luck. After hearing that, Paul hung up.

After that, Paul stopped speaking with both his grandfather and his father.

“He will need time to learn to believe in love and affection once again,” his mother said.  Sadly, Paul had never in his short life really believed in love and affection. He had suffered from an absence of emotional closeness. He had felt overshadowed by the wealth of his famous grandfather. The fear and degradation he had experienced as a kidnap victim could only magnify many times the psychic wounds that had festered since early childhood.

Paul spent two weeks recuperating in a private clinic. Then he traveled to Austria for a skiing holiday. He was happy to discover that he could wear sunglasses with only one ear although they sometimes fell off.

Even without an outer ear, Paul’s hearing was only slightly diminished.

  

Catching the kidnappers

Late in an evening in early January 1974, Italian police surrounded a house located in the village of Cicala in the Calabria region. Antonio Mancuso, a 35-year-old carpenter, realized that the police were there and shouted, “No! I won’t open.” He must have shortly realized the hopelessness of his situation; he soon opened the door and surrendered.

Seven other men were captured in connection with the Getty kidnapping during the same brief period in coordinated police raids. One was hospital orderly Domenico Barbino, 26, who was believed to have been a part-time drug dealer. Police thought that drug dealing might have brought him in contact with Paul and his hard-partying friends.

Three of the eight arrested were found with some of the marked ransom money; most of it would never be recovered. Eventually another man would be arrested and nine men in all would be tried for Paul’s kidnapping. Only two would be convicted and imprisoned. The others, including the man believed by police to be the mastermind, were acquitted but soon convicted of narcotics charges.

 

The bride wore black

Not quite a year after his release, Paul married a little-known German actress named Martine Zacher. She was five months pregnant when they wed. They were married in a non-religious ceremony before a government official in Siena, Italy. Both bride and groom were dressed in unconventional styles for a wedding. Martine wore black and Paul wore a Mao-style outfit.

J. Paul Getty believed Paul, who was 18, was too young to marry and disinherited him. That the tycoon was so upset by his grandson’s age at marrying is a point to give one pause. Traditionally, many people have married in their late teens and it has been far from a scandalous practice. In addition, marrying a girlfriend one has impregnated has usually been considered “doing the right thing.”

Martine gave birth to Paul Balthazar Getty on January 22, 1975.

After Paul regained freedom, he found he had no interest in the disco scene and was frightened by speeding vehicles. He was insomniac, hyper-alert, often suspicious, and suffered frequent nightmares.

He continued to drink the cognac that his captors had so frequently provided him. The man who had experimented with illegal drugs in his youth for kicks turned to them in his mid-twenties as a kind of self-medication.

During the 1970s, Paul lived in Los Angeles. He enrolled in a program in Chinese History at Pepperdine University. Even though his grandfather had disinherited him, he gave Paul a small allowance for his education.

J. Paul Getty died in 1976. His will specified that no money was to pass to Paul. The latter issued a statement claiming he was not upset by his grandfather’s will and saying, “Not all the Getty family are interested in becoming billionaires.”

Paul’s special problem was that he could not seem to find any interest that would both make use of his talents and give his life meaning.

 

A stroke leaves a shriek

Surgeons fitted Paul with a new ear in 1977. The procedure involved a series of delicate operations involving rib cartilage grafts.

At this time, Paul was still drinking heavily as well as using drugs. Martine introduced him to the German avant-garde film director Wim Wenders who cast Paul in some bit parts. Wenders cast him in a major role in 1981 in a film called The State of Things.

In April of that same year, Paul’s chance of a breakthrough movie role was derailed when he suffered a stroke triggered by his ingestion of a combination of alcohol, valium and, methadone.

The stroke left him paralyzed in all four limbs and blind except for some peripheral vision. The only sound he could emit for the rest of his life was a high-pitched shriek. Other people had to spoon feed, bathe, and dress him.

Paul’s mother Gail rushed to her son’s side and helped care for him. She lacked the resources to fund either the medical treatments or the day-to-day assistance he required. His father had them but refused to help pay Paul’s medical bills that were about $25,000 per month. This was ironic since Jean Paul II was famous in Great Britain as a philanthropist. Indeed, years later he would be knighted for his contributions to charity.

But the man who could be bountifully generous to strangers took a different view of helping his own son. Mail Online states that Jean Paul II said his son “had to live with the consequences of his own drug-induced actions.”

Gail sued and a court ordered Jean Paul II to pay for Paul’s medical treatment. The judge remarked about Jean Paul II, “I think Mr. Getty should be ashamed of himself. He is spending far more on these legal details than it would cost him to measure up to his moral and legal obligations.”

Paul demonstrated courage and willpower in the aftermath of the stroke as he took part in daily regimens of therapeutic exercise despite the extreme physical pain they entailed. He recovered enough physically that he could be taken to movie theaters and concerts in his wheelchair. Strapped to a metal frame, he was even able to ski again.

In 1993, Martine divorced Paul.

Paul died on February 5, 2011 at 54. He resided in Buckinghamshire, England when he died. His son, actor Balthazar Getty, said his father “taught us how to live our lives and overcome obstacles and extreme adversity and we shall miss him dearly.”

Besides Balthazar, Paul’s survivors include the mother who devotedly cared for him through the years of his paralysis and blindness, his brother Mark, sisters Aileen and Ariadne, stepdaughter Anna Getty and six grandchildren and step-grandchildren. Aileen is well known because she has AIDS and often campaigns on behalf of people with HIV and AIDs. Like Paul, she suffered a troubled youth. Aileen has been an anorexic and self-mutilator. She originally said she had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion but later admitted that she had gotten it through unprotected sex in an extra-marital affair. That revelation led to the break-up of her marriage with Elizabeth Taylor’s son Christopher Wilding but Aileen remains close to Elizabeth Taylor. The two of them often work together in AIDS research and treatment fundraising.

Some friends of Paul’s speculated that death may have been a release for a man who had suffered so much pain in life.

That pain may have been, at least in part, the result of being the scion of a family that enjoyed extraordinary financial wealth but was sadly impoverished in trust and love.

 

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Woo, Elaine. “J. Paul Getty III dies at 54; scion of oil dynasty.” Los Angeles Times. Feb. 7, 2011.

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