Getty Curse? An inside look at the billionaire family hit by tragedies, from kidnapping to drug overdose

The Getty family has faced a long line of harrowing tragedies which have led some to speak of a 'Getty curse'


                            Getty Curse? An inside look at the billionaire family hit by tragedies, from kidnapping to drug overdose
(Getty Images)

The late oil tycoon Jean Paul Getty (J Paul) who had made his multi-billion dollar fortune by extracting oil in the Middle East was once the richest private citizen. The family's massive and unimaginable wealth has come at a high price with their lives embroiled in tragedies such as multiple drug overdose deaths, kidnappings, affairs, tabloid scandals and even dismemberment. 

According to Forbes magazine, it had listed the combined family fortune at $5 billion which is the 54th highest on its list of America's most wealthy in 2014. The publication had said, "The story of the famed Getty family is one of the most obvious examples that money, cold hard cash, doesn't buy happiness."

The Getty family has plagued by a long line of tragedies which have led some to speak of a “Getty curse”. J Paul had been married five times and reportedly had countless lovers and had five sons by four of his wives. J Paul Getty died of heart failure at the age of 83 in 1976. His youngest son Timothy had died of a brain tumor at the age of 12 in 1958 while his eldest son George Franklin was found dead after consuming drugs and alcohol in 1973.  Another of Paul's sons, Sir John Paul Getty, had struggled with depression and addiction until his 2003 death.  A shocking scandal hit the family was when J Paul's 16-year-old grandson John Paul Getty lll was kidnapped by mobsters and held captive for months in 1973. 

John Paul Getty III, grandson of oil billionaire, art collector and philanthropist John Paul Getty Jnr. (Getty Images)

In 1973, the oil tycoon found out from his son J. Paul Getty Jr of his grandson's kidnapping. Getty Jr had seen his second wife die of a heroin overdose a few years earlier. His son, John Paul Getty lll, had been chained to a stake in a cave in Calabria and a Rome based newspaper Il Messaggero, received a package which had a clump of hair and a left ear along with a note demanding ransom. J Paul Sr had refused to pay the money until the infuriated captors cut off the child's ear and threatened to return him piece by piece if they did not get paid. He had at the time told reporters, "I have 14 grandchildren and if I pay one penny ransom, I'll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren," but eventually paid a sum of $3 million. 

Once released, the teenager remained addicted to hard drugs and the spirits the kidnappers had given him to keep him sedated. In 1981, he overdosed on drugs and suffered from a stroke which left him paralyzed and nearly blind for the rest of his life.  He died in 2011 after spending three decades confined to a wheelchair. 

The same year that John Paul III was kidnapped, George Getty, J Paul's son by his first marriage, died a curious death. “He fell twice on a barbecue fork,” Claus von Bulow, a Getty family friend, told the Daily Beast

In the latest tragedy to come upon the family was the death of one of the oil tycoon's grandsons and heir, John Gilbert Getty who was found dead in a hotel room at the age of 52. Gilbert was found unresponsive in a hotel in San Antonio in Texas on Friday, November 20, just months after the death of his mother and almost six years after the death of his brother. In 2014 John Gilbert’s brother Andrew was found dead at his home in Los Angeles after suffering intestinal bleeding. The 54-year-old had a toxic level of methamphetamine in his system when he was found dead by his girlfriend. This happened only months after their mother Ann died at the age of 79. The authorities do not suspect any foul play in Gilbert's death, while the cause of death is pending via the autopsy, TMZ reported.

A spokesperson for his father, composer Gordon Getty, provided a statement to People. The spokesperson said, "With a heavy heart, Gordon Getty announces the death of his son, John Gilbert Getty. John leaves behind his daughter, Ivy Getty, whom he loved beyond measure, and his brothers Peter and Billy. His brother, Andrew, predeceased John. John’s mother, Ann Gilbert Getty, passed this September. John was a talented musician who loved rock and roll. He will be deeply missed," the statement added. 

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