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'Golden Hippie' John Paul Getty III Dead at 54

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By Jessie de la O/Special to LAist

John Paul Getty III, an heir to the oil-fortune and once dubbed by the media as the “golden hippie,” who at the age of 16 made headlines when he was kidnapped, passed away on Feb. 5 in Buckinghamshire, England after a long illness. He was 54.

Getty’s life was never free from tragedy. He was the grandson of American oil giant J. Paul Getty, whose fortune helped build the J. Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

In July 1973, while living in Rome, Italy, 16 year-old Getty was kidnapped by several men and was held for ransom, notes the LA Times. Getty’s mother, Abigail Harris, sought help from her son’s father and grandfather, who had refused to pay the ransom believing it was a hoax. Four months into the kidnapping, a lock of Getty’s red hair and his right ear—which had been severed—were sent to his family as proof that he was in immediate danger of losing his life. The kidnappers demanded more than $3 million in ransom. Eventually, Getty’s grandfather paid $2.2 million toward the ransom and charged his son, Getty II, interest on the rest. Getty was freed in Dec. 1973. He then tried calling his grandfather to thank him for his help, but the elder Getty refused to take his call. It was then that the younger Getty decided to cut ties with his father and grandfather.

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Getty went through numerous operations to have his ear reconstructed. In 1981, after a bout with drugs and alcohol addiction, Getty suffered a narcotics-induced stroke, which left him paralyzed and nearly blind, according to the Washington Post. Since he was unable to pay for his own medical expenses, Getty and his mother sued his father to force him to help pay for his medical treatment. His father died in 2003.

J. Paul Getty III is survived by his mother, four siblings, daughter Anna Getty, son Balthazar Getty and six grandchildren.