Friday, February 11, 2011

The Poor Little Rich Kid: The Transit and Eclipse of John Paul Getty III

By Jack Brummet
Social Mores Editor

John Paul Getty III with his then wife

This is one messed-up story.  Whenever I think about the grandfather after all these years, it makes my blood boil.  The grandson of the richest man in America (at the time) died in England last week.  John Paul Getty III is mainly known for being JPG's grandson, and for being kidnapped in Rome in 1973, having his ear mailed to a newspaper, and eventually being freed.  For some reason, I remember it well.  It happened in the summer of 1973, just as I was about to depart for college.

JPG3 spent most of his childhood in Rome where his dad ran a European division of Getty Oil.  His parents divorced in 1964; his father remarried and lived in England and Morocco during the '60s. 

JPG3 was kicked out of seven private schools, and was booted from St. George's English School, in Rome, Italy, in what I think was his last go round with school.  Paul was often called the Golden Hippie, and was frequent fodder of the press and gossip columns--people were fascinated that the grandson (and, presumably, heir) of one of the richest families in the world became a hippie.

In July, 1973, Getty was kidnapped in the Piazza Farnese in Rome.  His family soon received a ransom note demanding $17 million for his safe return.

"This is Paul's ear. 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."

In reality, however, is that it was no hoax.  JPG3 was tethered to a stake, blindfolded, and held in a mountain hideout. John Paul Getty II begged his father for the ransom money.  JPG Senior refused.  The skinflint, cheap-ass bastard said that he had 14 grandchildren "and if I pay for one, then I'll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren."  At the time, JPG was worth roughly $6 billion.  This guy was so cheap, he installed a pay telephone in his home so family and friends would not be able to place long distance calls on his nickel.

The kidnappers were now desperate, and. in November 1973, an envelope containing a lock of hair and a human ear was delivered to a daily newspaper.  The note threatened further mutilation of Paul unless $3.2 million was paid.

Now, when it was finally clear that the kidnapping was real, and that it was Paul's ear, Getty Sr. agreed to pay a ransom.  But get this. . .the black hearted miser would only pay $2.2 million.  Why, you ask?  Because that was the maximum amount that was tax deductible (I have not looked into the tax code to see how they handle ransoms). So, Getty Sr. paid the $2.2 million.  And the balance, he loaned to his son JPG2.  But JPG2 had to repay the money with 4% interest!  Getty Sr. He ended up getting his grandson back for $2.7 million. 

John Paul Getty III was found alive in southern Italy on December 15th, 1973, just after the ransom was paid.  Some of the kidnappers were caught-- a carpenter, an olive oil dealer from Calabria, and a hospital orderly.   Several of the kidnappers were acquitted, but were then convicted on narcotic charges. The ransom money was never found.

In 1974, JPG3 married German Gisela Zacher, who was 5 months pregnant. He knew her and her twin sister in Rome before his kidnapping. They had a son named Balthazar, who is an actor in a series on TV currently.

Paul had drug and alcohol problems over the next decade.  He was in treatment in 1981, when, at a party, he ate Valium and methadone, along with drinking.  He fell asleep and experienced liver failure and a stroke which left him a quadriplegic and almost blind. Although his father (JPG Jr.) gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to charity, he refused to give a penny to help care for JPG3, and only relented when his first wife (JPG3's mother) sued him. 

Understandably, Paul faded from the public view after his illness, until last weekend.   He was in poor health his entire life after the stroke.   He died this week, in his home in Buckinghamshire, England.


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