J. Paul Getty's Ex-Wife Teddy Getty Gaston Dies at 103
Known later in life as Teddy Getty Gaston, the red-haired signer was married to the billionaire from 1939 to 1958, marking the longest of his five marriages
Louise Dudley “Teddy” Lynch, J. Paul Getty‘s fifth and final wife, has died at 103.
Her daughter, Louise Gigi Gaston, confirmed the death on Facebook Sunday night, writing, “My mother died in my arms at 11:11 PM last night. Her last words were, ‘Be strong, Gigi, never quit.’ ”
She added, “My life is changed forever. God Bless the women who held me in my first breath, and God Blessed me with a great mother who’s last breath she took in my arms. Her faithful dog Apache at her feet.”
Known later in life as Teddy Getty Gaston, the red-haired signer was married to the billionaire from 1939 to 1958, marking the longest of his five marriages. The couple met in 1935, when she was working as a chanteuse at the New Yorker nightclub.
“There was electricity,” Gaston told PEOPLE of their meeting in 2014. “I was amazed with what he asked me, how he spoke. Then later on, I realized he was a brilliant person and that attracted me so much. I really wanted to know him. His mind, but also, he had a great sense of humor. And he was very attractive as far as I was concerned.”
Getty was 40 when he met the 20-year-old singer, who came from a wealthy but troubled background. Her stepfather, a successful businessman, was an alcoholic who derided Gaston’s Jewish heritage and allegedly sexually assaulted her.
“My mother’s stepfather raped her and called her a dirty little Jew,” Gaston’s daughter Gigi previously told PEOPLE. “I think that had a huge effect. In that era, you couldn’t get help because they would put the girl away.”
In Getty, Gaston found a father figure who accepted her, but dating the infamously frugal billionaire presented its own unique challenges. In his autobiography, Getty reflected on the payment plan he imposed on his young wife for her opera singing lessons. “I offered to finance her lessons — on a loan basis. She would repay me from her future earnings,” he wrote in 1976.
Gaston earned a few minor movie roles, even singing the uncredited opera sequence in Billy Wilder’s Lost Weekend. Despite the relatively small parts, she was forced to pay 10 percent of whatever she earned to her billionaire husband. While studying opera in Italy, Gaston was arrested and jailed for a time by Mussolini’s Fascists, who suspected she might be a spy.
When they married in 1939, Getty had his wife sign a prenuptial agreement, which was rare at the time. Between her studies in Italy and her husband’s obsessive work schedule, the couple rarely saw each other. Gaston did her best to endure her husband’s absence and womanizing, but Getty’s dark side became exceedingly apparent when their son Timmy was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 6 in 1952.
At the time, Getty was busy expanding his oil empire into Saudi Arabia, and despite knowing his son was going blind from the tumor, he was rarely at home with his family. “He was busy with the oil company,” Gaston told PEOPLE. “I never realized how much oil meant to him. I guess it meant more than anything. When he finally was successful, it was the days where Timmy was at his worst.”
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Getty, who was living in Europe, sent his son and wife to New York to meet with specialists, but demanded the doctor fees be paid from her allowance. “I’m glad that you realize they are enormous,” he wrote of the bills that year, according to The New York Times. “You should always, if there is time, and there was in this case, have an agreement in advance as to what the charges will be. Some doctors like to charge a rich person 20 times more than their regular fee.”
Gaston, who often apologized for Getty’s behavior, admitted to PEOPLE, “I was very unhappy about that, but I did everything I could to make Timmy be happy and realize his daddy was busy working to satisfy him. I had to. I did everything in the world to make that boy happy.”
When Timmy died at the age of 12, Getty did not attend the funeral. Gaston filed for divorce, and the couple finalized their divorce the same year their son died, 1958. Later that year, she married her longtime family friend William Gaston. They had a daughter, Gigi, now a filmmaker living in Venice.