Mariska Hargitay's mom Jayne Mansfield was one of the first Playboy playmates.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on January 29, 2021. It has since been updated.
It's not easy to lose a parent at a young age and not be affected by it. It's likely going to leave a scar in people's psyche that can be healed over time. Mariska Hargitay, 57, lost her mom when she was only 3 years old, and the grief stayed with her for a long time. Hargitay, who is the daughter of a famed actress and one of the early Playboy Playmates, Jayne Mansfield, says that grief is now a part of her.
"The way I've lived with loss is to lean into it. As the saying goes, the only way out is through. In my life, certainly, I’ve tried to avoid pain, loss, feeling things. But I’ve learned instead to really lean into it because sooner or later you have to pay the piper," the Law & Order: SVU actress told People. "I'm not saying it's easy, and it certainly hasn't been for me. There's been a lot of darkness. But on the other side, things can be so bright," she added.
Mansfield was only 34 when she died in a car crash in 1967. At the time, Hargitay was in the back seat of the car but she survived the crash. "She was just so ahead of her time. She was an inspiration, she had this appetite for life, and I think I share that with her," said the mom-of-three.
The 57-year-old, who still honors her mom, said that there was more to her mom than being a bombshell. "My mother was this amazing, beautiful, glamorous sex symbol — but people didn’t know that she played the violin and had a 160 IQ and had five kids and loved dogs," she said.
Hargitay was raised with her two brothers and three half-siblings by her dad, former Mr. Universe bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay, and her stepmother Ellen. She was close to her dad, who also featured in an episode of SVU. "My dad taught me to listen and to learn," she reflects. "As a young kid, I had my antennas out for who had wisdom and why, and what was I supposed to learn from them, and why were they there? The way I’ve been able to make sense of the cards I was dealt was to follow those signs," she said.
It was her father who walked her down the aisle when Hargitay married Peter Hermann in 2004. Unfortunately, her father died in 2006, and losing her dad changed her. "It was huge to lose this person who was my everything, my strength, my power, the person who believed in me," said the Emmy-winning actress. "I do feel that he's with me. Even though he's not here physically, I carry him," she added. Just like her father is with her, she keeps her mom close to her heart as well.
"Someone once said about [remembering] my mother: 'All you have to do is look in the mirror,'" she adds. "She’s with me still," Hargitay added. However, it was this likeness that, at times, frustrated her when she was trying to make a name for herself in Hollywood.
"In some ways, being the daughter of a Hollywood icon has been a burden. I used to hate constant references to my mom because I wanted to be known for myself. Losing my mother at such a young age is the scar of my soul," she told Closer Weekly.
Despite following her mother's footsteps, becoming a mom is what made Hargitay feel closer to Mansfield. "Being a wife and mother is my life, and that gives me the most joy. I understand [my mother] in a new way that gives me peace. Now I understand the love she had in her, and it makes me feel closer to her," she said.