Oil tycoon Jean-Paul Getty (J. Paul) extracted oil in the Middle East, making a multi-billion-dollar fortune and setting his family up for generations. He was once the richest private citizen in the world. But the family’s unimaginable wealth came at a high price with a series of devastating tragedies, known as “the Getty family curse.”
When Forbes estimated the combined family fortune at $5 billion (which was the 54th highest on its list of America’s Most Wealthy in 2014), the publication noted: “The story of the famed Getty family is one of the most obvious examples that money, cold hard cash, doesn’t buy happiness.” From the grandson who founded Getty Images to the great-grandchild who dressed Kim Kardashian, the Getty family is one of the most fascinating families in the world. They are known for many things: oil, businesses, immense fortune, but, most intriguingly, a litany of devastating incidents.
Here is the Getty family’s cursed history…
A Seemingly Cursed Family
John Gilbert Getty is the latest victim of the horrible tragedies endured by the descendants of billionaire oil baron Jean-Paul Getty. 52-year-old John Gilbert was found dead in a hotel room in November 2020, leaving behind a 26-year-old daughter, Ivy, and brothers Peter and Billy. Their other brother Andrew died in 2014, and their mother, Ann, passed away at the height of the pandemic in September 2020.
Drugs have plagued the tycoon family for generations. John Gilbert’s cousin, John Paul Getty III, was left disabled after a kidnapping led him on a terrible drug and alcohol-induced path in the 1970s. He was severely handicapped for the rest of his life.
So, who is who? And which surviving descendants of the Getty family are still around today?
Jean-Paul Getty: The Patriarch Who Started It All
As the patriarch of the Getty family, Jean-Paul Getty started it all. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the billionaire oil baron and art collector was the richest man in the world. He owned 80 percent of the world’s oil empire and had five wives.
The American-born British oil tycoon, widely known as J. Paul Getty, created the Getty Oil Company and was dubbed the world’s richest private citizen in the 1966 Guinness Book of Records. By the time he died at age 83 in 1979, he was worth more than $6 billion buckaroos!
The family patriarch was an avid art collector and left more than $661 million of his estate to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles after he passed away. In 1953, he established the world’s wealthiest art institution, the J. Paul Getty Trust.
Jean-Paul was also a notorious womanizer, which was a disappointment to his conservative, Christian parents. He tended to hit on teenage girls, marry them, get them pregnant, and then ignore them until they left. He had a total of five sons from his four wives.
As you can assume, he was really smart with money. No matter how rich he got, he was known for being thrifty and saving cash whenever he could. Some might call him cheap, considering he tried to negotiate his grandson’s Italian kidnapping ransom in 1973… but we’ll get into all of that soon.
His fifth wife, Teddy, explained in her memoir how Getty scolded her in the 1950s for spending too much money to treat their six-year-old son Timmy, who became blind from a brain tumor before passing away at the age of 12. Getty died of heart failure in Guilford, Surrey.
Gordon Getty: The One With the Secret Second Family
Gordon Getty is J. Paul’s fourth child from his fourth wife, Ann Rork. He was a businessman, investor, philanthropist, and classical composer. He was also the one who had a secret second family. After his billionaire father died in 1973, he helped facilitate the sale of his father’s business, Getty Oil.
At one point, Gordon was the sole benefactor of the family’s $4.1 billion trust before it was split up into six separate trusts. According to Forbes, Gordon Getty is now worth $2.1 billion. Despite all that money, he didn’t have an easy life.
Impacted by the Getty family curse, Gordon lost two brothers: one from a drug overdose and the other one from cancer. His sister-in-law died from a heroin overdose. Sadly, he wasn’t the only Getty family member to suffer loss and tragedy.
In 1999, it came out that Gordon actually had three younger daughters from a secret affair with a woman named Cynthia Beck. The news was shocking and devastating to everyone involved.
He also had a musical life, which was documented in Peter Rosen’s documentary Gordon Getty: There Will Be Music. Gordon is currently 86 years old.
Ann Gilbert Getty: The Unsuspecting Wife
Ann Gilbert Getty was Gordon Getty’s wife. She was a talented publisher, philanthropist, and interior designer; she is the one who held fundraising events for Kamala Harris and Barack Obama. Sadly, she died in September of this year at age 79.
Ann met Gordon in a San Francisco bar, and on Christmas day 1964, they eloped to Las Vegas. The couple had four sons and a wonderful family. Well, that was until Anne discovered that he had a long-term affair and three kids with his mistress, Cynthia Beck.
Ann Gilbert Getty
As the spouse of Gordon Getty, Ann was a prominent socialite in New York and San Francisco while also being a keen philanthropist for political, scientific, and artistic causes. She was a board member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, and New York University.
Throughout the years, she ran fundraising events for Democratic political candidates. This past September (2020), she died of a heart attack. The family hosted a private memorial service but had to keep it small because of the pandemic.
John Paul Getty Jr.: The One Who Was Knighted
John Paul Getty Jr. was the third of J. Paul Getty Sr.’s five sons with his wife, Ann Rork. Born into one of the richest families in the world, he was a philanthropist and book collector. He was the one who settled down in Britain and was knighted.
He was actually born with the name Eugene Paul Getty, but later in life, he adopted a few other names: Paul Getty, John Paul Getty, Jean-Paul Getty Jr., and John Paul Getty II. In order not to get confused, we are going to refer to him as John Paul Getty Jr.
John Paul Getty Jr.
He had four children, including John Paul Getty III and Mark Getty, with his water polo champion first wife, Abigail Harris. His second wife was a Dutch actress named Talitha Pol. Sadly, she died of a heroin overdose in 1971. In 1994, he walked down the aisle for the third and final time with Victoria Holdsworth.
He was awarded an honorary knighthood by the conservative party in 1986. John Paul Getty Jr. passed away in 2003 at the age of 70 after being treated at the London Clinic for a chest infection.
Mark Getty: The Brains Behind Getty Images
Mark Getty is the child of John Paul Getty Jr. and Abigail Harris. He is an important Getty family member as he was the brains behind the famous photographic agency Getty Images. Mark was the child who had “[broken] free of the dysfunction in his family,” according to Forbes.
Before co-founding Getty Images in 1994, Mark started a career in investment. Getty Images is now the leading imagery supplier for the corporate, media, and advertising sectors in the world. He has three sons from his first wife, Domitilla Harding but now lives in Rome with his second wife, Caterina Nehberg, and their daughter.
John Paul Getty III: The One Who Got Kidnapped
John Paul Getty III is Mark’s brother and also the child of John Paul Getty Jr. and Abigail Harris. He is an artist, jewelry maker, and movie extra. He is also the one who got mixed up with Mick Jagger and was kidnapped.
Reportedly, John was introduced to cricket by Rolling Stones legend Mick Jagger. But he is most famous for being kidnapped in Rome and imprisoned in a cave in 1973 (there are several books and films based on the event).
John Paul Getty III
His grandfather was famously hesitant to pay the $17 million ransom. His argument was that his other 13 grandchildren would be targeted if he paid. Eventually, he negotiated a $2.2 million payment after his grandson’s severed ear was sent to a newspaper. Five months after his kidnapping, John was finally released, but he suffered from PTSD, which resulted in a lifelong dependency on drugs and alcohol.
He eventually suffered an overdose and stroke, which left him, quadriplegic, partly blind, and unable to speak. He definitely fell victim to the Getty family curse. Although he ultimately learned to ski (while strapped to a metal frame), he remained handicapped for the rest of his life. He died in 2011 at age 54. Don’t worry, I’ll get into more detail about this bizarre case later on.
Balthazar Getty: The One Who (Secretly) Dated Sienna Miller
Balthazar Getty is the son of John Paul Getty III and Gisela Schmidt. He was interested in entertainment and worked as an actor and musician. He is also the Getty child who had an affair with Sienna Miller.
Balthazar was always artistically inclined and started his acting career at age 12 when he was scouted in his school art class and landed a role in the film Lord of the Flies. Since then, he has appeared in several films, such as Young Guns II, Natural Born Killers, and Judge Dredd.
Some other movies he was in include Mr. Holland’s Opus, White Squall, Lost Highway, Big City Blues, The Center of the World, Deuces Wild, Ladder 49, Feast, and the TV miniseries Traffic. He had a nice run and continues to dabble in acting today. As for his music career, he is part of an indie band called Ringside.
In 2000, he married fashion designer Rosetta Millington, and they have four beautiful children together. However, he had a highly publicized affair with actress Sienna Miller in 2008. He and his wife ended up reconciling, though. The pair lives in the Hollywood Hills together.
John Gilbert Getty: The Latest Victim of the Family Curse
John Gilbert Getty is the child of Gordon Getty and Ann Gilbert. Sadly, he recently fell victim to the family curse and died at the age of 52. Tragically, he was found unresponsive in a Texas hotel room on November 20, 2020. He had a career as a musician.
Apparently, the heir to the estimated $5 billion family fortune was living in L.A. with some friends and U.S. politician Gavin Newsom. He had one daughter, Ivy Love Getty. Unfortunately, despite her wealth and good looks, she has to live with the loss of her father.
John Gilbert Getty
When John Gilbert Getty was found dead, an official cause of death wasn’t given. However, foul play wasn’t believed to be involved. Since then, it’s been revealed that he died of an accidental Fentanyl overdose. Either way, it’s clear that he too succumbed to the family curse.
The family broke the devastating news with a statement saying, “With a heavy heart, Gordon Getty announces the death of his son, John Gilbert Getty.” The spokesperson added, “John was a talented musician who loved rock and roll. He will be deeply missed.”
Andrew Rork Getty: The One in the 27 Club
The second of Gordon Getty’s four sons with his wife Ann is Andrew Rork Getty. The oil heir was a businessman, film director, and philanthropist. He fell victim to the Getty family curse back in 2014 when he died of a meth overdose at the infamous age of 27.
Andrew was an investment president and manager of the production company Rork Productions. In 2002, he started shooting a movie called The Storyteller, which ended up being posthumously released 15 years later under the title The Evil Within, two years after his death.
Andrew Rork Getty
He lived in the Hollywood Hills but was known to be a bit of a recluse. Strangely, a mere two weeks before his death, he filed a restraining order against Lanessa DeJonge – his ex-girlfriend and the one to find his unresponsive body at his home.
According to the coroner, Andrew had toxic levels of methamphetamine in his bloodstream and was also suffering from heart disease. It was suspected that an ulcer caused internal bleeding, and that’s what killed him. He was said to have had stomach pains for a couple of months prior.
Ivy Getty: The It Girl on the Rise
We touched on Ivy Getty as she is the gorgeous daughter of John Gilbert Getty. The 26-year-old is an artist, model, socialite, and oil heiress. With her brains, beauty, and a hefty inheritance waiting for her, her life looks incredible from the outside, and she has been called an “it girl on the rise.”
Ivy shares her father’s love of music and fashion and has 27,000 followers and counting on Instagram. She even has a separate account devoted to her drawings. The stunner has also done some modeling for notable clothing brands. She has a bright future ahead of her!
After she lost her dad, she took to Instagram with a series of photos and wrote a heartwarming caption: “My father was awesome – coolest man to ever land on this planet, and I will forever be the proudest daughter.” She added, “Love you so much, Dad… life is cruel sometimes… I have not one but two guardian angels watching over me now… here are some of my favorite pictures of him (and selfishly, a couple of us).”
She shared pictures and some fun facts about her father: “My dad would absolutely love if I shared photos of him and talked about how much he meant to me, so I am doing that.”
Ivy mentioned that her father’s favorite water was Fiji, his favorite rosé was Whispering Angel, and that “he loved ice cream and putting it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before consumption. He wanted to eat it (or really drink it like a soup).”
She went on to explain that he split his time between London and Los Angeles, and she praised his guitar talents: “He was an absolute beast at any instrument, but his favorite was guitar. He held all the chords totally different than anyone else because he taught himself.”
Ariadne Getty: The LGBTQ Activist
Ariadne Getty is the 59-year-old daughter of John Paul Getty and Abigail Harris. She is a film producer, philanthropist, and businesswoman. In 2019, she was crowned Variety’s Philanthropist of the Year for LGBTQ rights.
Ariadne was born in Rome and spent most of her childhood outside of Siena. She eventually went on to marry actor Justin Williams, and they have two children together, August and Natalia. Both of her kids are gay and helped inspire her passion for LGBTQ rights activism and supporting that community.
Her foundation is a significant donor to the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and she has held benefit concerts and panels supporting LGBTQ rights. Additionally, Ariadne is also the CEO of August Getty Atelier, her son’s fashion line, as well her daughter’s lifestyle brand Strike Oil.
Ariadne and Williams got divorced, and she is currently dating producer Louie Rubio. It looks like she is leading a happy life and possibly breaking the family curse. That’s not to say she didn’t suffer from the loss of her family members, especially her brother’s kidnapping.
August Getty: The One Who Styled Kim Kardashian
As the son of Ariadne Getty and Justin Williams, August Getty (also known as August Williams) was destined for greatness. He is a fashion designer who had the pleasure of dressing the lovely Kim Kardashian. He is of Italian and English heritage and openly gay and proud!
August once said in an interview: “I was a chubby, ginger, American gay kid in a British boarding school. I was set up for disaster. Then I heard Born This Way.” He said that growing up, his designer influences were Alexander McQueen, Versace, Vivienne, Westwood, and Stella McCartney.
He premiered his own fashion collection in 2014 at New York Fashion Week. He based the style on his childhood fantasies and imagination about European heiresses with secret lives and his family’s botanical gardens.
August has over 64,000 Instagram followers and founded the fashion brand August Getty Atelier. He dressed other A-listers, such as Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and Paris Hilton. His creativity continues to help his successful brand. He is now 27, and so far, he seems to be doing great; it doesn’t look like he is going to succumb to the curse.
Nats Getty: The Model and Activist
Natalia Getty is J. Paul Getty’s granddaughter and the child of Ariadne Getty and Justin Williams. Just like her brother and mother, the 28-year-old model is an LGBTQ rights activist. She is an artist and is married to her long-time partner, transgender YouTuber Gigi Lazzarato (“Gigi Gorgeous”).
If you’re looking for her on Instagram, she goes by Nats Getty Gorgeous. Nats has struggled with some mental health issues and substance abuse in the past, but luckily, she is doing great, seems to be happy, and is hopefully breaking the Getty family curse.
The Notorious Kidnapping
So, we kind of glossed over the fact that John Paul Getty III got kidnapped, but here is the whole story. We know the family patriarch, J. Paul Getty, racked up millions during his heyday in the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. Despite being crowned the richest man in America in 1957, J. Paul had a notorious reputation of being a cheapskate.
I mean, this guy went as far as installing a payphone in his London home for his guests to use. It’s no surprise that his relationships were troubled. But you know what they say, that’s how the rich stay rich. J. Paul initially refused to pay the ransom when his grandson, John Paul Getty III, was kidnapped, saying, “I have 13 other grandchildren. If I pay one penny, I will have 14 kidnapped children.”
Living on His Own
John Paul Getty III was born in 1956 to John Paul Getty Jr. and his wife, Gail Harris. After they split up in 1956, John Paul Jr. moved to Rome and married Talitha Pol (who later became a heroin addict). John Paul III also lived in Italy when he was a teenager attending boarding school.
However, he was expelled, and even though his father moved from Rome to England (after Talitha’s heroin overdose), the teenage Getty stayed in Italy, living on his own in the city. On July 10, 1973, 16-year-old Getty III disappeared.
A Possible Hoax?
Two days later, his mother received a ransom note demanding $17 million dollars. Harris didn’t have the money. However, the police and even other members of the Getty family expressed doubts about the kidnapping. Getty III himself would often joke about how he would fake his own kidnapping to squeeze money out of his grandfather.
The random still wasn’t paid, even after the kidnappers sent Harris a letter from her son that read: “Dear Mummy, since Monday I have fallen into the hands of kidnappers. Don’t let me be killed.” J. Paul senior thought that if he paid, someone would try to abduct his other grandchildren.
The Cheap Grandpa
Since the ransom demand wasn’t met, the kidnappers held Getty III for months in the mountains of Calabria. Eventually, the abductors cut off his ear and a chunk of his hair and sent it to a newspaper in Rome.
Pictures of Getty with a severed ear and his cries for his family to pay the ransom began to appear in other newspapers. Finally, his cheap grandfather agreed to pay the ransom, but not before negotiating with the captors and reaching a final amount of $3 million. You can call J. Paul a lot of things, but a bad businessman is certainly not one of them.
Getty III’s Severed Ear
According to John Pearson’s 1995 book about the family, J. Paul’s accountants told him that $3 million is the most that would be tax-deductible. But he only paid $2.2 million. John Paul II took a loan from his father so he could pay the rest and save his son. He had to repay the family patriarch with a four percent interest rate.
Finally, John Paul Getty III was free. But as you can imagine, his life was never the same. Other than the fact he lost an ear, he developed PTSD that took his mental health on a dangerous downward spiral. He was traumatized and didn’t really know how to deal with the pain.
The Long-Term Effects
When John Paul III was 18, a year after he got rescued, he married Gisela Zacher, who was six years older than him. Their son Balthazar Getty went on to become an actor. Getty III also adopted Gisela’s daughter Anna.
Eventually, he enrolled in Pepperdine University for one semester, but he struggled with addiction. His substance abuse got so bad that in 1981, he suffered a narcotics-induced stroke. He was left paralyzed and needed aid for the rest of his life. His mother Gail cared for him until 2011, when he died at age 54.
J. Paul Getty Controlled Over 200 Companies
With his prosperous empire growing more and more successful, he eventually had control over hundreds of different companies; many of them were oil companies which were the backbone of the Getty family fortune. But there were many other business ventures, too.
Perhaps the most famous is Getty Images, the dominant stock image licensing brand. There was also a hotel, gas stations, real-estate companies, insurance firms, and even an aircraft company. Most amazingly, he owned an actual castle. His empire went global with businesses operating all over the world, from Mexico to Italy to Saudi Arabia.
Learning From Daddy
J. Paul wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but his family was pretty well off as his dad was a successful lawyer in Minnesota. But that wasn’t enough for old George Getty. In 1903, he went to Oklahoma during an oil boom. That’s where he bought the rights to extract oil from an area of land stretching over several thousands of acres.
His gamble paid off. Shortly after, they were extracting over a million barrels of oil per year. He was a young lad at the time, but J. Paul Getty watched his father’s success and learned from him. When his dad died, he inherited a third of George Getty’s empire, but at that point, he had an empire of his own.
His Last Will
Despite all his wealth, J. Paul Getty didn’t have the best relationship with his family. His children and grandchildren competed to become his successor, but since he wasn’t a present or involved father, some of them grew to hate him. So, he left two of his sons with “The sum of 500 Dollars and nothing more” in his will.
Yeah, the world’s wealthiest man left them a measly $500. What’s even more disturbing is that many of the women he had affairs with were included in his will. Some of them received large shares in his oil company and even monthly payments throughout their lives.
He Was Incredibly Cultured
Young J. Paul Getty showed a strong intellect and attended both Berkeley and Oxford University. J. Paul also spoke seven foreign languages: French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Greek, and Arabic. If that wasn’t enough, he was also able to read Latin and Ancient Greek.
The guy was extremely cultured. While he was a student in Oxford, he became friends with Prince Edward – who went on to become the King of England. He earned a prized degree in economics and political science and traveled the world for many years. He was able to learn and experience a lot during this time, shaping his mindset forever.