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J. Paul Getty's grandson dies at 54

LONDON - Great wealth became J. Paul Getty III's great curse.

At age 16, he was held for ransom for five months by captors who cut off one of his ears when his oil-rich grandfather balked at paying.

After his 1973 release, he became addicted to drugs and alcohol, diving deeper into a hippie counterculture that seemed the opposite of his family's capitalistic roots. He was only in his 20s when he suffered a devastating stroke that left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He died Saturday at age 54.

Getty "never let his handicap keep him from living life to the fullest, and he was an inspiration to all of us, showing us how to stand up to all adversity," his son, the actor Balthazar Getty, said in a statement.

The elder Getty died surrounded by his family at his country estate in Buckinghamshire northwest of London. The cause of death was not disclosed, but Getty had been gravely ill for some time.

Born in 1956 to oil wealth counted in the billions of dollars, Getty's life was upended when he was kidnapped in Rome in 1973. He was a tempting target - his grandfather was often said to be one of the world's first billionaires. His mother, American actress Gail Harris, called journalists to her home one evening in Rome to announce the family had received a $17 million ransom demand.

Getty's grandfather refused to pay. But his will was broken when a Rome newspaper received a plastic envelope with a severed ear inside and a warning that another would follow if the family didn't pay.

Getty was released and was found wandering on a country road in southern Calabria. He was freed for a reported ransom of $2.7 million. Getty then enthusiastically embraced a life of drugs and parties. While in treatment for alcohol abuse in 1981, he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed, unable to speak and in need of around-the-clock care. He was rarely seen in public afterward.

In addition to his son and mother, survivors include a stepdaughter, six grandchildren and four siblings.

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