|January 23, 1964|
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Mariska Hargitay was born on Jan. 23, 1964, in Los Angeles, CA. She was the youngest daughter of 1950s platinum blonde starlet Jayne Mansfield and Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay, who were divorced before their daughter's first birthday. When Hargitay was three and a half years old, she and brothers Miklos and Zoltan were in the car with their mother and her boyfriend when their car hit a truck, killing the adults instantly. The children were relatively unhurt, as they had been sleeping on the backseat; though little Mariska did end up with a scar on her head. Following their mother's death - a rumored decapitation from the force of the crash, which later proved all Hollywood myth - the children were raised by their father and his wife, who also had two children of their own. Hargitay grew into a smart, accomplished teen, learning to speak Hungarian, French and Italian, and always active in student government, sports, and theater. She had also undeniably inherited her mother's good looks, and was crowned Miss Beverly Hills in 1982.
Following her graduation from Marymount High, Hargitay enrolled in the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television and began landing screen roles within her first year of drama studies. By the time she had earned her degree in 1987 she had appeared in the films "Star 80" (1983), "Ghoulies" (1985), and the 80's teen comedies "Welcome to 18" (1986) and "Jocks" (1987). She found her first series work as a teen parolee desperate to be accepted in the CBS series "Downtown" (1986). Two years later, Hargitay had a recurring run on "Falcon Crest" (CBS, 1981-1990) as the wily Carly Fixx, and continued guesting on other TV shows, often playing characters with an air of toughness. She acted alongside her father in the Hungarian-made "Mr. Universe" (1988), and co-starred in the martial arts vengeance saga "Perfect Weapon" (1991), but a leading screen career did not seem to be in the cards.
Following a turn as a hooker in "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995) Hargitay landed her first regular TV role, as Nancy McKeon's sexy next door neighbor on the short-lived sitcom "Can't Hurry Love" (1995). Her 1997 recurring role as the flighty single mother who falls for Anthony Edwards' Dr Mark Greene on "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009) however, rejuvenated her career; enough that when the relationship ended, she landed a supporting role in a new police drama "Prince Street." The show was pulled after only a few episodes, but after so many forays into different character types in film and TV, the role seemed to finally be a good fit.
After appearances in the taut thriller "Lake Placid" (1999) and a starring role in the Lifetime pic "Plain Truth" (2004), Hargitay finally scored a career-making role as Detective Olivia Benson, a policewoman specializing in sex crimes on the NBC drama "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." Her popular, empowering, character portrayal earned the actress her first Golden Globe Award in 2005 and her first Emmy win in 2006. Upon winning the latter, Hargitay made a point of thanking her famous father for everything he had done for her. The tearful speech was one of the highlights of the ceremony. Just 17 days later, on Sept. 14, 2006, her father died from multiple myeloma in Los Angeles, CA.
Hargitay took her position in the spotlight very much to heart, and began to do a great deal of charity work on behalf of women's support organizations. She became a certified rape crisis counselor and founded the Joyful Heart Foundation, a non-profit organization which aids victims of sexual abuse with various types of health and wellness programs. She also worked with the Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention program, the Safe Horizons Advocacy Project, Santa Monica Rape Crisis Treatment Center, and Girl Scouts of the USA. In between her TV work and do-good charities offscreen, Hargitay found time to marry fellow "SVU" star, Peter Hermann, who played attorney Trevor Langan on the show. They had one son together, August Miklos Friedrich Hermann, on June 28, 2006.
Hargitay made news of a different kind when in late December 2008, she suffered a partially collapsed lung after taking a fall during a "Law & Order" stunt. She underwent surgery in January 2009 and returned to work shortly after. On March 3, 2009, Hargitay was hospitalized again after suffering chest pains related to the injury. It was disclosed at that time that she would need more surgery. She returned to work a few months later after a full recovery. On a more positive note, that summer she secured her sixth overall Emmy Award nomination in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series category for her exemplary work on "SVU," repeating the feat the following two years.