It’s easy to look at the rich and famous and think that they have it all figured out, that their lives are somehow better and easier because of their privilege, but frequently, that’s not the case. For example, the Getty family has suffered myriad tragedies, but none so big as the kidnapping of then-16 year old John Paul Getty III in Italy, which you can see fictionalized in the new FX series Trust. What happened to John Paul Getty III after he was kidnapped? Understandably, he was never the same.
In 1973, J. Paul Getty was the richest man in the world, his relatives having founded Getty Oil, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and Getty Images. These are big names, ones that are still relevant today. But according to Town and Country, J. Paul was as known for his miserly attitude as he was for his millions, and he reportedly went so far as to install a payphone for guests to use at this London home so he didn’t have to pay for the calls, per Forbes. And, later in his life, J. Paul famously refused to pay the ransom for his kidnapped grandson John Paul III. According to The Independent, J. Paul defended this action, stating, "I have 14 other grandchildren and if I pay one penny now, then I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren."
As reported by Town and Country, on July 10, 1973, 16-year-old John Paul III was kidnapped off the streets of Rome, and two days later, his mother received a ransom note demanding $17 million in exchange for his release. Gail Harris, John Paul’s mother, didn’t have the cash and. J. Paul refused to pay the money, even after the kidnappers cut off John Paul’s ear and sent it to the family in an envelope, along with a lock of his hair. John Paul was held for months, only released after J. Paul, according to Rolling Stone, reportedly discovered “a tax loophole through which Getty’s accountants found he could write off a portion of the $2.89-million-bargained-down ransom.”
According to People magazine, a year after he was set free, at age 18, John Paul III married girlfriend Martine Zacher (she was 24), adopting her daughter from a previous marriage. The couple had their own son, Balthazar, in 1975. Per People, according to journalist A. Craig Copetas, who knew John Paul III after working on a story about him, “The wedding was wild, a total hippie wedding. Paul was thrilled. He was happy with Martine. It was 18-year-old happiness.” John Paul III lived with his wife and children for a bit, but he soon began to slip into drugs. Things got so bad, according to People, that Harris tried to get a conservatorship over John Paul III, and it ultimately failed.
Years of heavy drug abuse finally caught up with John Paul III, and in 1981, according to Rolling Stone, he suffered a “drug-induced stroke” that left him a quadriplegic without the ability to speak. He died in 2011 at the age of 54. Of his father’s death, according to People, Balthazar Getty said, “[He] never let his disability keep him from living life to the fullest. He was an inspiration to all of us, showing us how to stand up to all adversity."
Trust will show John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping and its causation, but what happened later deserves attention too. Even though he suffered many tragedies in his life, John Paul Getty III was committed to living his life to the fullest, even up until his death — and that should be his legacy.