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Oil Heir Gordon Getty Is a Superrich Californian, but His World Isn't Sans Simian

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He composes music, sings opera in three languages, writes poetry and, unlike most people, would rather be known as a baritone than a billionaire.

That’s Gordon Peter Getty, the richest man in America, according to the latest Forbes magazine tally. The fourth of five sons born to the late oil billionaire J. Paul Getty, Gordon doesn’t waste much time clipping coupons. A retiring San Franciscan, he plays down the business of the Getty Oil Company, on whose board he sits and from which he earns about $28 million a year(his share of the family trust amounts to 13 percent of the stock). Instead, Getty, 49, stresses his avocations. He is chairman of the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, which supports anthropological research, and is a friend of the San Francisco Zoo (where a visit last year produced this photograph).

But Getty’s true love is music. He sings opera (last May he appeared with the Marin Symphony Youth Orchestra) and spends his summers in the cultural jet-stream, touring European music festivals with his wife, Ann, and their four sons. (This year in Salzburg they rented two houses to accommodate friends.) Apparently, opera is a passion that can override mere decorum: When the couple throw parties in their mansion overlooking San Francisco Bay, Getty sometimes leaves the hosting to his wife and dines instead with records in the soundproof music room.