updated 02/08/2011 AT 11:05 AM ET
•originally published 02/08/2011 AT 11:15 AM ET
J. Paul Getty III, a grandson of oil magnate Jean Paul Getty and the victim of a 1973 kidnapping and mutilation that made headlines around the world, died Saturday in Buckinghamshire, England, after a lengthy illness, his actor-son, Balthazar Getty, said in a statement.
A father of two and a grandfather of six, Getty was 54 and “taught us how to live our lives and overcome obstacles and extreme adversity,” said Balthazar, 36, reports the Los Angeles Times.
At the age of 16, Getty was abducted in Rome by kidnappers who said he was being held by the Mafia. His father and grandfather, then the richest man in the world (and notoriously the cheapest, with a pay phone in his London mansion), thought it a hoax and refused to pay the $3 million requested ransom. Four months later, they received a package containing a lock of hair and a human ear.
Threatening to dismember their victim “piece by piece,” the kidnappers also sent photos of the young Getty. Eventually, the grandfather paid $2.2 million and lent his son the remainder of the $3 million – with interest. Getty was released on Dec. 15, 1973, his grandfather’s 81st birthday.
Reportedly, immediately after his ordeal Getty III attempted to contact his grandfather, who refused to come to the phone. The young man severed relations with both his father and grandfather.
A year later, at age 18, Getty wed Martine Zacher, six years his senior, says The Times. When Jean Paul Getty learned of the union, he disinherited his grandson for marrying so young. Upon his death at age 83 in 1976, Jean Paul Getty left his son $500 and nothing to his grandson. (The father, known as Paul Getty, died in 2003.)
After a near-fatal, drug-induced stroke in 1981, J.Paul Getty III was left partially paralyzed and nearly blind. He spent his later years attempting to rebuild his life.
Besides his children and grandchildren, he is survived by his siblings, including AIDS activist Aileen Getty.