America’s Getty family has become known for many things over the decades: oil, immense wealth and a litany of tragedies now labelled by many as the 'Getty curse’.
News today of heir John Gilbert Getty’s death is the latest in this line of tragedies to befall the descendants of billionaire oil baron Jean Paul Getty, the family patriarch. The 52-year-old was discovered unresponsive in a hotel room, leaving behind a daughter Ivy, 25, and brothers, Peter and Billy. Their other brother, Andrew, died of a drug overdose in 2014 and their mother, Ann, passed away at the height of the pandemic in September.
Drugs have plagued the tycoon family for decades. John Gilbert Getty’s cousin, John Paul Getty III, was left disabled after a kidnapping led him into drug and alcohol addiction in the 1970s and he remained severely handicapped for the rest of his life.
So who is who? And where are the surviving family members now? From the grandson who founded global image powerhouse Getty Images to the great-grandson who’s dressed Kim Kardashian, this is a guide to one of the most fascinating families in the world.
Jean Paul Getty
Family status: Patriarch of the Getty family
Age: He died in 1976 aged 83
Career: Billionaire oil baron, art collector and the world’s richest man in the 1950s and 60s
The one who: Had five wives and owned 80 per cent of the world’s oil empire
Background: The American-born British oil tycoon, known widely as J. Paul Getty, founded the Getty Oil Company and was named the world’s richest private citizen in the 1966 Guiness Book of Records. At his death in 1976, he was worth more than $6 billion. A book published in 1996 ranked him as the 67th richest US citizen who ever lived, based on his wealth as a percentage of the concurrent GNP.
The patriarch was an avid art collector, with more than $661 million of his estate left to the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles after his death. He established the world’s wealthiest art institution, the J. Paul Getty Trust, in 1953.
Getty was a notorious womanizer, which horrified his conservative Christian parents. He had a flair for courting teenage girls, marrying them, getting them pregnant and neglecting them until they left; and went on to have five sons from four of his five wives.
He was notoriously frugal, negotiating his grandson’s Italian kidnapping ransom in 1973. The memoir of his fifth wife, Teddy, reported how Getty had scolded her for spending money too freely in the 1950s on the treatment of their six-year-old son, Timmy, who had become blind from a brain tumor and died at the age of 12.
Getty died from heart failure aged 83 in Guildford, Surrey, and is buried in LA.
Family status: The fourth child of J. Paul Getty and his fourth wife Ann Rork
Career: Businessman, investor, philanthropist and classical composer
The one who: Had a secret second family
Background: Gordon, a classical musician and philanthropist, helped facilitate the sale of his father's business, Getty Oil, after the billionaire died in 1973. At one time, he was the sole benefactor of the Getty family's $4.1 billion trust before he split it up into six separate trusts. According to Forbes, he is currently worth $2.1 billion.
Gordon Getty lost two brothers, one to a drug overdose, the other to cancer and a sister-in-law died from a heroin overdose.
In 1999 it emerged he’d had three younger daughters from a secret affair with another woman, Cynthia Beck.
His musical life was chronicled in Peter Rosen’s documentary Gordon Getty: There Will Be Music.
Ann Gilbert Getty
Family status: Wife of Gordon Getty
Age: She died in September this year, aged 79
Career: Publisher, philanthropist and interior designer
The one who: Held fundraising events for Kamala Harris and Barack Obama
Background: Ann met her husband Gordon at a bar in San Francisco and they eloped to Las Vegas on Christmas Day in 1964. They had four sons, though her husband had three other children with his mistress Cynthia Beck.
As wife of Gordon Getty, Ann was a prominent socialite in New York and San Francisco alongside being a keen philanthropist for political, scientific and artistic causes. She served on the boards of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library and New York University.
Over the years, she also ran fundraising events for Democratic political candidates including Kamala Harris and Barack Obama.
She died of a heart attack in September and the family hosted a small, private memorial service because of the pandemic.
John Paul Getty Jr.
Family status: The third of five sons of John Paul Getty Sr and his wife Ann Rork
Age: He died in 2003, aged 70
Career: Philanthropist and book collector
The one who: Settled in Britain and was knighted
Background: He was born Eugene Paul Getty but adopted other names later in life, including Paul Getty, John Paul Getty, Jean Paul Getty Jr. and John Paul Getty II.
He had four children including John Paul Getty III and Mark Getty with his first wife, water polo champion Abigail Harris. His second wife, Dutch actress Talitha Pol, died of a heroin overdose in 1971, and in 1994 he married his third wife Victoria Holdsworth.
In 1986, he was awarded an honorary knighthood by the Conservative Party.
He died in 2003, having been treated at The London Clinic for a chest infection.
Family status: The son of John Paul Getty and Abigail Harris
Career: Co-founder and Chairman of Getty Images
The one who: Founded Getty Images
Background: According to Forbes, Mark is the son to have “[broken] free of the dysfunction in his family”. He began his career in investment before co-founded photographic agency Getty Images in 1994. It is now the world’s leading supplier of imagery for the corporate, media and advertising sectors.
He has three sons from his first marriage to Domitilla Harding and now lives in Rome with his second wife, Caterina Nahberg, with whom he has a daughter.
John Paul Getty III
Family status: Son of John Paul Getty and Abigail Harris, brother of Mark Getty
Age: He died in 2011, aged 54
Career: Artist, jewellery maker and movie extra
The one who: Mixed with Mick Jagger and was kidnapped
Background: John was said to have been 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 - the subject of several books and films. His grandfather was famously reluctant to pay the $17 million ransom, arguing that his 13 other grandchildren could be targeted if he paid, but he eventually negotiated a $2.2 million payment after his grandson’s severed ear was sent to a newspaper.
John was released five months after his kidnapping but suffered PTSD and went on to struggle with drug and alcohol addition as a result. This led to an overdose and stroke, which left him quadriplegic, partially blind and unable to speak.
He eventually learnt to ski when strapped to a metal frame but remained severely handicapped for the rest of his life. He died after a long illness in 2011.
Family status: Son of John Paul Getty III and Gisela nee Schmidt
Career: Actor and musician
The one who: Had an affair with Sienna Miller
Background: Balthazar began his acting career aged 12 in Lord of the Flies after being scouted in his art class at school. He has since appeared the films Young Guns II, Natural Born Killers, Judge Dredd, Mr. Holland's Opus, White Squall, Lost Highway, Big City Blues, The Center of the World, Deuces Wild, Ladder 49, Feast, and the television miniseries Traffic.
He is also a musician and is part of indie band Ringside.
He married fashion designer Rosetta Millington in 2000 and they have four children together. In 2008, he had a highly-publicised affair with actress Sienna Miller, but later reconciled with his wife. They live together in the Hollywood hills.
Read his interview with the Evening Standard in 2016 here.
John Gilbert Getty
Family status: Son of Gordon Getty and Ann Gilbert
Age: He passed away on Friday at the age of 52
Career: Musician and heir to the estimated $5bn family fortune
The one who: Passed away this week as heir to the Getty fortune
Background: John was heir to the $5 billion Getty fortune and was believed to have been living in LA and friends with US politician Gavin Newsom. He has a daughter, Ivy Love Getty.
He was found dead in a hotel room in Texas on Friday and while a cause of death has not been given, there is not believed to have been any foul play.
The family broke the news of John’s death this week through a rep, saying: "With a heavy heart, Gordon Getty announces the death of his son, John Gilbert Getty."
The spokesperson adds: "John was a talented musician who loved rock and roll. He will be deeply missed."
Andrew Rork Getty
Family status: The second of Gordon Getty’s four sons with his wife Ann
Age: He died in 2014 at the age of 27
Career: Oil heir, businessman, film director and philanthropist
The one who: Died of a meth overdose
Background: Andrew was an investment president and the manager of Rork Productions, a production company. He started filming a movie called The Storyteller in 2002, which was eventually released 15 years later and two years after Andrew’s death under the title The Evil Within.
He lived in the Hollywood Hills and was said to be a recluse. Two weeks before his death, he filed a retraining order against his ex-girlfriend Lanessa DeJonge, who was the one to find his body at his home in 2014.
According to a coroner, he had been suffering from heart disease and had toxic levels of methamphetamine in his body. Read more about his life in the Evening Standard here.
Family status: Daughter of John Gilbert Getty
Career: Artist, model, socialite and oil heiress
The one who: Is earning herself It-girl status
Background: Ivy has been called an “It-girl on the rise”, with a jet-set lifestyle and future set to inherit some of her family’s $5 billion fortune. She is said to share her father’s love for music and fashion, with more than 21,000 followers on Instagram and a separate account dedicated to her drawings. She’s also done some modelling for sustainable clothing brands.
Over the weekend, she paid tribute to her father on her Instagram page with a series of photos.
“My father was awesome- coolest man to ever land on this planet and I will forever be the proudest daughter,” she wrote.
“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 numerous pictures with fun facts about her father. She wrote: “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 noted that Fiji water was her dad's favorite water, Whispering Angel was his favorite rosé 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 said he split his time between London and Los Angeles and praised his guitar skills.
She wrote: “He was an absolute beast at any instrument but his favorite was guitar. He held all the chords totally different that anyone else because he taught himself."
Family status: Daughter of John Paul Getty and Abigail Harris
Career: Philanthropist, businesswoman and film producer
The one who: Was crowned Variety’s 2019 Philanthropist of the Year for LGBTQ rights
Background: Ariadne was born in Rome and spend much of her childhood outside Siena. She went on to marry actor Justin Williams and had two children: August and Natalia, who are both gay and inspire her passion for LGBTQ rights activism (her foundation is a major donor to the Los Angeles LGBT Center and she has held benefit concerts and panels in support of LGBTQ rights).
She serves as the CEO of her son August’s fashion line August Getty Atelier and of her daughter’s lifestyle brand Strike Oil.
Ariadne and Williams have since divorced and she is now in a relationship with producer Louie Rubio.
Family status: Son of J. Paul Getty’s granddaughter Ariande Getty and Justin Williams
Career: Fashion designer
The one who: Has dressed Kim Kardashian
Background: Also known as August Williams, August Getty is of Italian and English heritage and gay. He 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 says he was influenced by designers Alexander McQueen, Versace, Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney growing up. In 2014, he premiered his own fashion collection at New York Fashion New, based on childhood fantasies about European heiresses with secret lives and his family’s botanical gardens.
He has more than 64,000 followers on Instagram and is the founder of fashion brand August Getty Atelier. He has dressed A-listers including Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Paris Hilton.
Family status: Daughter of J. Paul Getty’s granddaughter Ariande Getty and Justin Williams. August’s sister
Career: Model, designer, artist and LGBTQ rights activist
The one who: Is married to a transgender YouTuber
Background: Natalia Williams, better known as Nats Getty, calls herself Nats Getty Gorgeous on Instagram, where she has more than 163,000 followers.
She attended boarding school in Oxford growing up but now lives in Los Angeles, working alongside her mother and brother to support the LA LGBT Center. She has her own lifestyle brand, Strike Oil, a play on her family’s oil business, and has directed and acted in a short film called Smoking Solitary.
Nats married her long-term partner, transgender YouTuber Gigi Lazzarato or ‘Gigi Gorgeous’, last year in California.