Getty family, beset by tragedies, again in mourning

Family patriarch J. Paul Getty, left, son Gordon Getty and grandson J. Paul Getty III, who was kidnapped as a teen, in undated photos. The recent death of Andrew Getty, son of Gordon Getty, marks another tragic turn for the family.

Family patriarch J. Paul Getty, left, son Gordon Getty and grandson J. Paul Getty III, who was kidnapped as a teen, in undated photos. The recent death of Andrew Getty, son of Gordon Getty, marks another tragic turn for the family.

(Getty Images / Associated Press)

The death of Andrew Getty, an heir to the Getty oil fortune, marks another tragic turn for the family.

Here is a Q&A about the Getty family’s triumphs and setbacks, assembled from the Los Angeles Times archives.

Who was J. Paul Getty?

He was an American oil magnate whose fortune built the J. Paul Getty Museum. The Getty family is known for his philanthropic efforts, but J. Paul Getty was also the kind of miser who installed a pay phone in his mansion.


Getty founded Getty Oil Co. and was often cited as one of the world’s richest men. He learned to speak Arabic in order to better negotiate business deals in the Middle East.

The Gettys donated their Hancock Park mansion for use as the home of Los Angeles’ mayor and also donated heavily to the arts.

Getty, who died in 1976, headed a family that seemed plagued by illnesses, addictions and other disasters.

What are some of the problems that have befallen the family?

J. Paul Getty’s fifth son -- his only child with his fifth wife -- died of a brain tumor in 1958 at age 12. Another son died of a suspected suicide in 1973.

That same year, grandson J. Paul Getty III -- Andrew Getty’s cousin -- was kidnapped in Italy and held for ransom for more than five months.

And in 1999, J. Paul Getty’s son Gordon Getty, Andrew’s father, confirmed that he had a second family living in Los Angeles after the three daughters born to him by another woman filed court documents requesting that their last name be changed to Getty.

The revelation that the well-known composer and philanthropist had a second family -- while remaining married to his wife, Ann -- became tabloid fodder, but it was something of an open secret in elite social circles.

How did the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III play out?

He was abducted by several men and driven 200 miles to a hiding place in the mountains of Calabria. A ransom demand was delivered a week later. His mother, former actress Gail Harris, sought help from her son’s father, J. Paul Getty Jr., and grandfather, but they viewed his disappearance as a money-making scheme by an unruly teenager.

As time dragged on, the Getty patriarch’s stony rejections of her pleas continued. “I have 14 grandchildren,” he told reporters, “and if I pay one penny ransom, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” According to biographer Robert Lenzner, the eldest Getty refused to talk to Harris or his son and communicated through intermediaries.

Four months into the kidnapping, a package arrived at the offices of a Rome newspaper. It contained a lock of red hair and a moldy human ear. An accompanying letter demanded more than $3 million in ransom. Soon after, the kidnappers provided photographs of Getty minus the ear and wrote that if their demands were ignored they would return the boy “piece by piece.”

His billionaire grandfather yielded to the demands a short time later. According to Lenzner and other reports, he contributed $2.2 million toward the ransom and charged his son interest on the rest.

J. Paul Getty III was freed in a small town south of Naples on Dec. 15, 1973, which happened to be his grandfather’s 81st birthday. According to some reports, he tried to call his grandfather to thank him for obtaining his release, but the elder Getty refused to come to the phone. The young man cut off relations with both his grandfather and father.

What do we know about Andrew Getty’s death?

Andrew Getty, 47, appears to have died of natural causes or an accident inside his Hollywood Hills estate, a coroner’s official said.

A law enforcement source told The Times that Getty was found naked from the waist down in the bathroom of his Hollywood Hills estate Tuesday and appeared to have suffered from some type of blunt-force trauma. It’s unclear whether the injury was caused by a fall or something else.

Inside, investigators recovered prescription medication and learned that Getty had not been feeling well in recent months, Winter said. A physician’s appointment was scheduled for Wednesday.

It will probably take weeks to determine a cause of death.

In San Francisco, Ann and Gordon Getty confirmed their son’s death in a statement in which they asked for privacy during an “extremely difficult time.”

Twitter: @MattHjourno @KateMather @JPanzar


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