Mariska Hargitay was 2 when her mum, Jayne Mansfield, died. It left her 'in a frozen place'.

For some 25 years, Mariska Hargitay has been the star of Law And Order: SVU, playing Olivia Benson.

We've watched as she's gone from deputy to detective to sergeant, and now a lieutenant and single mother on the intense NBC drama. 

The iconic role certainly wasn't her first, as she started acting in 1984. However, her rise to fame didn't begin then, but rather when she was born on January 23, 1964. 

Image: Getty.

She was the last child born to Jayne Mansfield, a sex symbol of the '50s and '60s, as well as an actor, singer, entertainer and Playboy housemate. She famously feuded with Marilyn Monroe — a fact Mansfield didn't shy away from.


She replicated the blonde, hourglass figure Monroe had, and both also shared a high IQ. 

"All she does is imitate me - but her imitations are an insult to her as well as to myself," Monroe said. "I know it's supposed to be flattering to be imitated, but she does it so grossly, so vulgarly — I wish I had some legal means to sue her."

Mansfield responded by pursuing John F. Kennedy, who was rumoured to be having an affair with Monroe — and when she did, she allegedly told reporters, "I'll bet Marilyn’s pissed as all get out!"

But when Monroe died in 1962, Mansfield worried she'd "be next".

Jayne Mansfield, 1955. Image: Getty.


Hargitay's father, Mickey Hargitay, was a Hungarian-American actor and the 1955 Mr. Universe. Mansfield was married to Hargitay's father from 1958 to 1964, before she moved on with American producer, director and writer, Matt Climber.

The pair were married for two years before tragedy struck the entire family, including Hargitay's other siblings, Jayne Marie Mansfield, Mickey Hargitay Jr, Zoltan Hargitay, and Tony Cimber.

On June 29, 1967, at around 2am, a car carrying Mansfield, three of her children (including Hargitay) and two other adults, slammed into the back of a semi-truck on a dark highway in Louisiana. The impact killed the three adults in the front seat, as well as her family dog, but the three children in the back survived. Hargitay was two years old.

She would go on to be raised by her father and eventually followed in her parents' footsteps by pursuing acting. 

Mariska Hargitay and Mickey Hargitay, 2004. Image: Getty.


But the pain of losing her mother has lived with Hargitay since the moment of her death, she told Redbook in 2009.

"Losing my mother at such an early age is the scar of my soul," she expressed. "But I feel like it ultimately made me into the person I am today. I understand the journey of life. I had to go through what I did to be here."

The actor later told Glamour Magazine in 2021 the trauma of losing her mother left her in a "frozen place" during her childhood. 

"I think I learned about crisis very young, and I learned very young that s**t happens and there's no guarantees, and we keep going. And then we transform it," she said. "That’s been kind of my superpower, and the gift of having trauma early in life."

She added, "I clearly was in that frozen place for a lot of my childhood - of trying to survive, actually trying to survive. My life has been a process of unpeeling the layers and trust and trusting again."


Hargitay pursued her first acting role in the 1985 horror comedy Ghoulies. But it was her career-defining role as Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 1999 that made her a household name. 

Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay, 1999. Image: Getty.

"My personality is very different from Olivia Benson," she explained to Glamour. "I like to laugh... I like to make my kids laugh. And comedy has a real currency in our household."


Alongside her for 12 seasons was Christopher Meloni, who played Detective Stabler in the series. While he left in 2011, the pair remained close. He now has his own spin-off show, Law & Order: Organised Crime which crosses over with SVU

"He's a bull. He’s intellectual. He's clear. He’s focused. He’s funny. He’s a ball buster. And to see him back stronger, faster — he's like the bionic man," she said of her acting partner. "He's like this 60-year-old superhero who is even more dedicated, more badass, more pure, stronger, more focused. He’s just more of everything that he was."

Whilst Meloni was undoubtedly her kryptonite and superpower on the show, Hargitay's real strength comes from her husband and fellow actor Peter Hermann. 

Hargitay, Meloni and Hermann were amusingly referred to as the most "progressive marriage in Hollywood"

"We make it work," Hermann jokingly admitted in 2021. "Sometimes Chris and I have some things to negotiate, but we’ve gotten really good at communicating with each other. There’s a lot of give and take. In the end, all three of us are really happy."

The couple began dating after Hermann appeared on season three of SVU in 2002 and in 2004, they married. 

Two years after their wedding, the pair welcomed their son, August, in June 2006. And in 2011, Hargitay and Hermann expanded their family by adopting their daughter Amaya and son Andrew within months of each other.

Image: Instagram @therealmariskahargitay.


"I basically pulled Amaya out," Hargitay told Good Housekeeping in May 2012. "Peter and I held her, and then the birth mother and I hugged for a long time. That was profound. That was one of the most meaningful moments I’ve ever had in my life."

Hargitay is famously closed up about her family life but in 2018, the actor shared what it was like balancing her demanding work schedule with motherhood. 

"It’s hard. I’m not going to say it’s easy, it’s hard. I’m learning to [balance]," she told US Weekly. " I try to be super present with where I am. When I’m at work, I’m at work. When I’m with my kids, I’m with my kids."


The actors have been married for 18 years now but it was the first date when Hargitay knew he was the one. 

Image: Instagram @therealmariskahargitay.

"I cried because I was feeling something that I’d never felt before, but I kind of knew what it was and I always say people, well, you know, when you’re a little girl, your parents and your grandparents and everyone goes, 'When you’re in love, you’ll know.' And I did," she described on Today With Hoda & Jenna in 2019. 

"And before I did I'd never felt that. And so when I was sitting in church, it was so hilarious, because Peter was like, 'Oh, my god, she’s so moved.'"

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

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This story was originally published in December 2022 and has since been updated.