John Paul Getty, III (1956–2011) was the favorite grandson of the wealthiest man in the world, the miserly oil baron Jean Paul Getty. Young John was kidnapped and his billionaire grandpa refused to pay the $17 million ransom. It is a chiller of a thriller coming to the big screen on December 8.
Ridley Scott directs the true crime thriller, All the Money in the World. David Scarpa wrote the screenplay based on John Pearson’s book and the movie boasts an all-star cast. Kevin Spacey is unrecognizable as J. Paul Getty. Michelle Williams plays the terrified mother of kidnapped Getty (Charlie Plummer). Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) is a security man employed by the senior Getty.
Getty, III spent his young life in Rome where his father was head of the Italian branch of the Getty’s family oil biz. But his Dad left when he was 9. By the age of 15 young Getty had been expelled from 7 schools and was a drug-taking, thrill-seeking partier.
At 3am, July 10, 1973 in Rome’s Piazza Farnese, Getty was kidnapped. He was pistol-whipped in the head, forced into a car and taken to a cave in Calabria. The kidnappers sent a ransom note demanding $17 million. Because Getty had been a rebellious kid who’d actually joked about staging his own kidnapping, when the ransom note arrived Getty’s family thought it might be a trick to get money from his notoriously tightwadded Dad.
The very real kidnappers blindfolded 16-year-old Getty and held him prisoner. He was beaten, tortured and tied to a stake. In November 1973, another ransom note was sent, this time to a daily newspaper but due to an Italian postal strike at the time it arrived 3 weeks late. The envelope contained a lock of Getty’s hair and his now partially-rotted sliced ear and a type-written note, “This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits.”
That finally convinced Getty’s father to ask his tycoon Dad for the money but was refused. Getty’s grandfather argued, “If I pay one penny now, then I will have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” Getty’s father agreed to pay the ransom, but begrudgingly. He negotiated! He ended up paying $2.9 million and his son—held captive for 138 days—was freed on December 15, 1973. Some of the kidnappers (an ex-con, a hospital orderly, a carpenter and an olive oil dealer) were caught but most of the ransom was never recovered. Getty’s father demanded that he pay back the ransom money plus 4 percent interest.
Getty married his 5-months-pregnant bride in 1974. His grandfather’s family trust barred him from marrying until he was 26. Because Getty was only 18 when he married he was cut off from the family’s money. In 1977, Getty had an operation to rebuild his mutilated ear. Getty and his wife had only one son before they divorced in 1993.
Getty’s twisted life turned worse. He was an alcoholic and drug addict—not that surprising, or even unusual—but one night in 1981 after combining valium, methadone and alcohol he suffered liver failure and a stroke. Getty was left a quadriplegic, unable to speak and nearly blind. He was 25 years old.
Getty’s father, also a drug addict, and also cut off from the family funds, said that Getty’s stroke was his own fault and refused to pay the astronomical medical bills. Getty needed round-the-clock care to be spoon-fed, changed and washed. His only means of communication were high-pitched screams.
The Getty brood took family dysfunction to epic extremes. In addition to Getty’s father’s heroin addiction, his sister Aileen Getty, was diagnosed HIV positive in 1985. She’s been in 7 institutions, had 12 shock treatments, 7 miscarriages, anorexia and was a self mutilator. Aileen is one of the longest survivors with the AIDS virus.
Getty was nursed for years by his devoted mother and a team of caregivers. He’d been gravely ill for much of that time. Getty died at the age of 54. He is survived by 2 children, son Balthazar and stepdaughter Anna, and 6 grandchildren. He’s also survived by his mother and 4 siblings: Getty Images co-founder Mark Getty, prominent AIDS activist Aileen Getty, Ariadne Getty and his half-brother Tara Getty. His actor son, Paul Balthazar Getty, has the letters BZAR tattooed on the fingers of his right hand. That seems a fitting way to end this heartbreaking tale of a mentally disturbed dynasty.