This post has been updated.
The grandson of one of the most storied American industrialists has been found dead in Los Angeles.
Andrew Getty, 47, grandson of oil baron J. Paul Getty and an heir to the family’s fortune, was found dead at his home on Tuesday afternoon, as the Los Angeles Times reported. Getty was naked from the waist down in the bathroom and appeared to have suffered some sort of blunt force trauma. After a preliminary investigation, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said the death appeared to be from accidental or natural causes, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“This does not appear immediately to be a criminal act,” Cmdr. Andrew Smith, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman, told the newspaper.
A woman present in the home when Getty was found is being questioned. The L.A. Times also reported Getty had sought a restraining order against a woman two weeks ago, but her identity was not known. A law enforcement source told the paper police had no immediate reason to think the woman was involved in Getty’s death.
TMZ reported the woman at the home was Getty’s ex-girlfriend, and that Getty and the woman were under the influence of drugs when police were called to the residence in the past for domestic disturbances. The police reportedly visited 31 times.
Andrew Getty is the son of Gordon Getty, who is worth $2.1 billion, according to Forbes. Though it’s unclear what happened to him, scandal and tragedy have plagued the Getty family for decades. As Forbes put it in 2011: “The story of the famed Getty family is one of the most obvious examples that money, cold hard cash, doesn’t buy happiness.”
J. Paul Getty, born in 1892, made millions buying and selling oil leases in Oklahoma. He made his first million by the time he was 25, and retired for a time to Los Angeles to engage what the New York Times called “a gaudy, girl-filled life.” But, unable to resist the lure of black gold, he was back in business shortly after World War I, making more money. In 1957, Fortune speculated he was the world’s richest private citizen.
“I would hope to realize several billions,” he said when estimating his net worth. “But, remember, a billion dollars isn’t worth what it used to be.”
But as the old chestnut goes, money didn’t buy Getty happiness — and as the song goes, it didn’t buy him love, either. He was married and divorced five times. And he earned a reputation as a Scrooge who installed a pay phone in his own mansion.
“If I were convinced that by giving away my fortune I could make a real contribution toward solving the problems of world poverty, I’d give away 99.5 percent of all I have immediately,” he said. “But a hard-eyed appraisal of the situation convinces me this is not the case.”
Rather than become a philanthropist on the order of Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford, Getty, an avid art collector who wrote a book on the subject, gave millions to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
“I hold that few human activities provide an individual with a greater sense of personal gratification than the assembling of a collection of art objects that appeal to him and that he feels have true and lasting beauty,” he wrote in “The Joys of Collecting” (1965).
By the time 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.
Tragedy seemed to dog J. Paul Getty. As the L.A. Times noted, first there was the death of one of his sons, who died of a brain tumor at age 12 in 1958. Then, in 1973, another son died after stabbing himself and taking barbiturates and alcohol.
That same year, J. Paul Getty III — one of the industrialist’s grandchildren and the future father of actor Balthazar Getty — was in Rome, “living a bohemian life, frequenting nightclubs, taking part in left-wing demonstrations and reportedly earning a living making jewelry, selling paintings and acting as an extra in movies,” as the New York Times put it. This was an age when American heirs were a target — and, a year before Patty Hearst, Getty III was kidnapped.
“Dear Mummy,” a note to his family read. “Since Monday I have fallen into the hands of kidnappers. Don’t let me be killed.”
The kidnappers wanted a $17 million ransom — a mere fraction of the Getty fortune. But the oil man was not inclined to pay.
“If I pay one penny now, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren,” the patriarch said.
The family eventually paid $2.2 million to get Getty III back — part borrowed from the boy’s grandfather at an interest rate of 4 percent — but Getty III lost an ear to his captors. Not chastened by the experience, Getty III became known as a drug user and heavy drinker who hung out with Andy Warhol. In 1981, he fell victim to a drug overdose that left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. After his overdose, he sued his father for $28,000 to help defray medical expenses. Getty III died in 2011 at 54.
Meanwhile, other Gettys were up to no good.
In 1999, Gordon Getty — again, a son of J. Paul Getty and the father of Andrew, who was found dead on Tuesday — acknowledged that he had three children with a woman he was not married to, leading to headlines such as “Getty’s Secret Double Life.” The news broke when his daughters changed their name — to “Getty.”
“Nicolette, Kendalle and Alexandra are my children,” Getty said in a statement at the time. “Their mother, Cynthia Beck, and I love them very much.”
Gordon Getty, who sold Getty Oil to Texaco in the 1980s for $10 billion, eschewed the family business to become a classical music composer and a supporter of the arts. He remains married to his wife — and not inclined to explain or apologize for his behavior. Life went on.
“Nothing is secret in this world, and sooner or later we knew something was going to come out,” his wife’s attorney said in 1999. “You face the facts. That’s it. I’ve learned long ago that you tell the truth on these things.”
Gordon and Ann Getty confirmed their son’s death, the L.A. Times reported, asking for privacy during an “extremely difficult time.”
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