It's Hard to Believe These 11 Famous Figures Narrowly Escaped the Worst Disasters in History

The billionaire survived a close brush with death and never sailed the Atlantic again.

J. Paul Getty

Though he may well have been named the ‘World’s Richest Man’ by People magazine, in the end it was dumb luck rather than money that saved J. Paul Getty from disaster in 1956. The industrial tycoon, then in his 60s, was booked to sail on the Andrea Doria. He cancelled his plans – most unlike Getty, who was far from spontaneous – and instead joined millions of Americans who watched the boat sink off the coast of Nantucket on his television set. Even if he escaped being sent to a watery grave, things would never really be the same for Getty…

By the 1950s, Getty was already fabulously wealthy. Having been born into a successful family oil business, he managed to steer it through the Great Depression, using his astute business brain to snap up rival firms and oversee a huge increase in the Getty family fortune. Above all, his focus on the oil fields of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia helped make him personally one of the wealthiest men on the planet.

It was also in the 1950s that Getty’s long love affair with all things British led him to moving to England. He settled into a Tudor-era stately home, Sutton Place, and entertained his business associates and friends either here or in London. Of course, with much of his business running out of the United States, he would often need to return to the land of his birth, which is why he booked passage on the Andrea Doria in the summer of 1956. For some reason, Getty cancelled his travel plans at the last minute, and so wasn’t aboard the Italian ship when it collided with a Swedish cruise liner just off the coast of the United States.

Getty would, however, have been aware of the disaster. Since it was so close to the shore, camera crews could reach the sinking ship, documenting in real-time the disaster that left 51 people dead. But that’s not where the story ends. According to one respected biography of the great man, Getty visited a fortune teller soon after the Andrea Doria disaster. She warned him that if he ever attempted to cross the Atlantic again, he would surely die. While he did book passage on several ships over the years, he never did end up setting sail, and Getty spent the next 20 years in England. He died in London in 1976, aged 83 and is now known more for the art museums that bear his name.