Image: J. Paul Getty III in 1973
Keystone  /  Getty Images
J. Paul Getty III is interviewed following the arrest of the men accused in his kidnapping in 1973.
msnbc.com
updated 2/8/2011 11:43:20 AM ET 2011-02-08T16:43:20

J. Paul Getty III, the grandson of the billionaire oil tycoon who shared his name, has died in Britain. He was 54.

His son, actor Balthazar Getty, confirmed Tuesday that his father died Saturday surrounded by his family at his English mansion in Buckinghamshire, northwest of London. The cause of death was not disclosed.

According to Britain's Telegraph newspaper, Getty was expelled from seven schools. He was branded "the Golden Hippie" by the press due to his bohemian lifestyle, left-wing friends and long red locks.

His grandfather, J. Paul Getty, founded the Getty Oil Company. He was reputedly the world's richest man when he died in 1976.

'Little pieces'
In 1973, the 16-year-old Getty was abducted in Rome, Italy. Gangsters demanded $17 million for his release. When the Getty family refused to pay up, the kidnappers cut off the teenager's ear and mailed it to an Italian newspaper.

"This is Paul's ear," an accompanying note read. "If we don't get some money within 10 days, the other ear will arrive. In other words he will arrive in little pieces."

However, Getty's grandfather remained reluctant to fund the ransom.

"I have 14 grandchildren, and if I pay a penny of ransom, I'll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren," he said in a statement at the time.

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Getty was eventually released after the family paid around $3 million, the Times reported. Two men with links to the Calabrian Mafia were later convicted in the case.

Getty's billionaire grandfather loaned some of the ransom money to the victim's father, but insisted the sum was paid back with four percent interest, the Telegraph reported.

It later emerged that the gangsters had chained Getty to a stake for five months, the newspaper said. Little of the ransom money was ever recovered.

In 1981, a drug overdose left Getty paralyzed and partially blind, according to the Times. Getty spent six weeks in a coma and had been confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak since then.

He reportedly died on Saturday at his home near London, England.

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Video: John Paul Getty III dies at age 54

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