The Getty Family
A Cautionary Tale of Oil, Adultery, and Death
Billions, Affairs, Severed Ears, Drug Overdoses, And Oil
The story of the famed Getty family is one of the most obvious examples that money, and cold hard cash, doesn’t buy you happiness.
“The Getty Curse,” as it is known, has stoked the public imagination for almost as long as the Gettys themselves have been striking oil.
The legend begins with J. Paul Getty, considered alongside Howard Hughes as the first modern billionaire. Getty’s business acumen—he not only scored a six-decade concession on an oil field outside of Kuwait in 1949 for less than $10 million, he learned Arabic to help seal the deal— was matched only by his cluelessness as a family man.
A notorious philanderer who was married five times, by the time J. Paul Getty, died in 1976 at 83, his legacy as a financial titan and benefactor of the arts was secure. But as so happens in industrial dynasties, his story grew strange near the end — and black sheep began to crowd the family tree.
He had lost his youngest son, Timmy, when he died of a brain tumor at age 12 (Getty failed to attend the funeral) and his eldest son and seeming heir apparent, George, under mysterious circumstances.
According to a story Claus Von Bulow once told, “He fell twice on a barbecue fork.”
Around the same time of George’s death, in 1973, came the famous kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III, the elder Getty’s grandson, in Rome by Italian gangsters.
Andrew’s father, Gordon, seemed to have bypassed the family’s tragic storyline.
Artistic and intelligent, he studied classical music composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and became a composer and philanthropist, raising four sons in the Bay Area with wife Ann.
The Getty family –once known for its oil riches and J. Paul Getty’s passionate appetite for art — seems to makes its way into the public sphere about once a decade, generally for some tragic occurrence. Like Forrest Gump, J. Paul Getty’s rise to become the world’s richest man was really a tale of two extremes: one of unbridled capitalism leading to a multi-billion dollar international oil empire; the other, decades of family indifference that destroyed the lives of some of the wealthiest individuals in the world.