People tend to think of celebrities as people who live charmed lives. They’re wealthy and get to travel the world seeing sights some only ever dream of. But while they sure do get the chance to savor the sweet life, that doesn’t mean they’ve never known tragedy.

No matter how famous you are, there’s no escaping life’s trials and tribulations. The life of actress and Law and Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay has been full of tragedy and misfortune. However, this TV legend refuses to let her upsetting past keep her down. Here is a look into her private life…

Mariska Hargitay’s mother was the famous film star Jayne Mansfield, so drama runs in her blood. However, her mother died tragically in a car wreck when Mariska was just three-years-old.


Because losing a parent isn’t hard enough, her family home was robbed not long after her mother’s death and her jewelry was stolen. However, in 2014 the robbers contacted Mariska offering to sell her back some of what they stole. Mariska was forced to actually buy back all of her late mother’s fine jewelry.

After her mother died, Mariska struggled to overcome the tragic loss. It became increasingly difficult to cope with when people began spreading terrible rumors about the way her mother had died. These were sparked because her mother’s wig was removed during the accident.


Mariska has always been open and honest about her experiences battling her twin demons of anxiety and low self-esteem. She said she became acutely aware of never knowing her mother while the rest of the world knew her so well.

This led to her skipping events because she was so sure she wouldn’t be missed by anyone else. She now doesn’t feel that way anymore, though it’s an ongoing struggle.

Mansfield and Hargitay split, and Mariska’s father remarried prior to Mansfield’s death. Mariska almost lost her beloved step-mother, Ellen Siano, a flight attendant, when she was involved in a plane accident. Mariska adores her and has said that she isn’t sure she’d still be alive without her.

While you might look at Mariska and associate her with being on the right side of the law, that’s just TV. The truth is she once found herself behind bars! There was a warrant out for her arrest for unpaid parking tickets. She spent the night in jail and learned a valuable lesson.

Fame didn’t hit for Mariska until she was 35 years old. In her early life, she wracked up six figures worth of total debt. Mariska also wound up paying back an ex-boyfriend about $64,000, which she owed him for covering her living expenses during the time that the couple was together.

During what should have been the happiest days of her life, tragedy struck. Mariska was forced to endure losing her father, Mickey Hargitay, to a very aggressive form of cancer in 2006. She had just given birth to her first child just weeks before he passed.

Mariska used to be very serious about doing her own stunts. During a scene where she was supposed to be chasing down a bad guy, she fell and noticed a sharp sensation on her side. The fall caused a microscopic tear in her lung!


After having her first child, Mariska and her husband Peter decided to try and adopt another so their son could have a sibling. The mother of the baby they were going to adopt changed her mind at the last possible minute. Mariska says that “adoption is not for the faint of heart.”

Actress Gabrielle Fitzpatrick was originally cast in the role of Dulcea in the Power Rangers, and Mariska only took over the role when Fitzpatrick became ill. When Fitzpatrick was healthy, the studio invited her back and Mariska was fired from the role.


The most important thing about Mariska is that she remains positive. Mariska says: “The message I got from my father was that life is hard, but you just don’t quit. I am grateful that I didn’t let fear get the best of me…”

Mariska is more than just a pretty face. While working hard at college and struggling to make it as an actress, she also taught herself to speak three languages. In addition to English, she speaks fluent French, Hungarian, and Italian.


She’s also the founder and the president of Joyful Heart Foundation, which helps rape and sexual assault victims. She was inspired to start it because of her work on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Charley Gallay

While Mariska’s had countless hardships, she has also had moments of triumph. In 1982, she was crowned Miss Beverly Hills. This got her cast as the lead in a movie called Road Trip. The director said: “We weren’t even considering her for the part!”


In 1999 she was cast as Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The show has been widely successful and as has been on for over 20 seasons. They have produced well over 400 episodes and people can’t get enough of it!


For the first nine season of SVU, Mariska Hargitay insisted on doing her own stunts, no matter how dangerous. That all changed in December 2008, as a hard fall she suffered on set left her with a collapsed lung.

Before it was the longest-running live action series on television, Law & Order: SVU was originally called Sex Crimes. NBC, however, felt this title was too off-putting, and showrunner Dick Wolf wanted to incorporate the series into the greater Law & Order universe.


Ice-T and his SVU character Odafin “Fin” Tutuola have become one in the same to most fans, though the legendary rapper was originally supposed to play the role for just four episodes. Ice, however, liked the part too much and decided to stick around.


The SVU writers know how to squeeze meaning out of every little detail — even when it comes to character names. “Odafin,” for example, translates to “lawmaker” in the Nigerian language of Yoruba while “Tutuola” means “The Gentle One.” Pretty spot on, right?


SVU is known as the standard for New York crime procedurals, though for more than a decade, it wasn’t very New York at all. That’s because for its first 11 seasons, SVU was actually filmed in New Jersey!

Mariska Hargitay / Twitter

Most SVU fans can recite the show’s opening narration forward and back, though not many can name the man behind the signature salutation. All the credit goes to voice actor Steve Zirnkilton, who also once served as a Maine congressman.

Voiceover Universe

Quick: what do Mariska Hargitay and comedian Kathy Griffin have in common? Well, aside from both women having appeared on episodes of Seinfeld, Kathy was actually Mariska’s improv teacher during her time at L.A.’s Groundlings Theater and School.

From Season 13 through 17, the letters in the title of each episode corresponded with the respective season — 13-letter titles in Season 13, 14 in Season 14, and so on. It wasn’t until Season 18 that writers realized no one was paying attention and scrapped the idea.

A gritty crime drama seems like the last place to find love, but that’s exactly what happened for Mariska Hargitay and her husband, Peter Hermann. The couple first met when Hermann began playing the recurring role of Defense Attorney Trevor Langan in Season 3.

therealmariskahargitay / Instagram

When Raul Esparza was first offered the role of ADA Rafael Barba, he didn’t want the part. Yet in the wake of a failed Broadway production, Esparza decided to take the role as a career rebound — the rest is history.

Before he was brought on as series regular Detective Dominick “Sonny” Carisi in Season 16, actor Peter Scanavino actually appeared on SVU two seasons earlier. In the episode “Monster’s Legacy,” Scanavino appears as Johnny Dubcek, a janitor and molestation victim.


Love him or hate him, there’s one thing nobody can take away from Richard Belzer’s John Munch: his longevity. The character has appeared in ten different television series over the course of 23 seasons, including stints on The X-Files, The Wire, and Arrested Development.

20th Television

When you spend 10-plus hours a day on set in Manhattan, it’s nice to have a few personal touches to make the place feel a little more like home. That’s why Mariska Hargitay keeps an actual photo of her mother, Jayne Mansfield, on Lieutenant Benson’s desk.


Similar to Scanavino, Diane Neal, who played ADA Casey Novak from 2003 to 2008 and then again from 2011 to 2012, also first appeared on the show in a much smaller role. In Season 3, Neal was featured in the episode “Ridicule” as a female rapist.


Most SVU fans were shocked when Christopher Meloni’s character, Detective Elliot Stabler, abruptly retired before the Season-13 premiere. Well, this wasn’t a case of wanting to spend more time with the family: Meloni and NBC simply couldn’t come to an agreement on a new contract.


Despite SVU‘s heavy themes and graphic accounts of sexual violence, countless celebrities have lined up for their chance to cross paths with Lieutenant Olivia Benson. Some of these famous faces include Robin Williams, Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper, and even Martin Short.


SVU‘s bread and butter is its ability to capitalize on trending news, with most of its episodes claiming to be “ripped from the headlines.” However, this only means that the episodes are loosely based on real events, as using straight facts would limit the flexibility of each story.


While SVU draws upon a variety of topical news stories for its episodes, two organizations in particular have given the show the most pushback: the NFL and the Catholic Church. Their complaints stem from the show’s tendency to associate these organizations with domestic violence and sexual assault, respectively.

In exposing the difficult realities of sexual violence and securing justice for victims, the SVU cast has earned a place of high esteem among actual assault survivors. Cast members are often approached and thanked by survivors for raising awareness and accurately portraying their stories.

@Mariska / Twitter

In fact, Mariska Hargitay was so moved by letters from assault survivors that she became a trained rape crisis counselor in real life. This should come as no surprise, however, as Mariska’s own life was marred by tragedy.


See, Mariska’s mother was actress Jayne Mansfield. Her career took off in the 50s, but her untimely death in 1967 left her Mr. Universe ex-husband alone with their young daughter.

Mansfield is often remembered for this iconic photo she appeared in with a less-than-thrilled Sophia Loren. Loren now refuses to autograph that photo “out of respect for Jayne Mansfield because she’s not with us anymore.”

She was a fashion icon for decades, but the road wasn’t always easy for Loren. When she was exiled from her native country of Italy, her husband would sometimes drive her to the top of a nearby mountain in Switzerland, just so she could catch a glimpse of her home.

Like Loren, Yvonne Craig moved to Los Angeles with dreams of being a performer, and ten years later, she was starring in Batman with Adam West. Her love of dance followed her into every fight scene she did. “Stop and think about this logically,” she said. “It’s all choreography.”

John Schneider, Catherine Bach, and Tom Wopat: The Dukes of Hazzard defined “cool” in the early ’80s. The cast became instant stars when the show debuted in 1979, but none of them were as adored as their 1969 Dodge Charger — the car received 35,000 fan letters a month!

Eddie Murphy: Whether you know him from SNLTrading Places, or even Shrek, you might be surprised to learn that he released a string of R&B albums featuring heavy hitters like Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Bon Jovi. His only major hit, “Party All The Time,” was produced by Rick James.

KISS: While the band was more fond of spikes and body armor, they decided to button up for this photo shoot. The only problem? Only one of them owned a suit! The rest had to borrow their outfits from their manager, Bill Aucoin.

Hill’s Angels: The Benny Hill Show was a magnet for controversy during its 36-year run, much of it focused on Benny’s bikini-clad backup dancers, the Hill’s Angels. One Angel managed to turn the controversy into success: Jane Leeves went on to star in NBC’s Frasier for 11 seasons.

Freddie Mercury and Elton John: In 1985, 1.9 billion people tuned in to watch Live Aid’s breathtaking performances by acts like David Bowie, U2, and The Who. No other event in history made it possible to bring so many rock icons together, and these two were happy to chat backstage.

Christopher Walken: He won his only Academy Award for his role as a Vietnam War veteran suffering from PTSD in The Deer Hunter. The part tested Walken’s skills; for his last scene, an intense game of Russian roulette, the director had the actors improvise all the dialogue.

Conan The Destroyer Cast: Who’s the shrimp in the middle? None other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. At 6’2, the Terminator is not a small man, but standing next to his Conan the Destroyer co-stars Wilt Chamberlain and Andre the Giant, he looks practically puny.

Phil Collins: If his name makes you think of Disney’s Tarzan or his horde of Grammy awards, you’re not alone. But Phil found his early success as a child actor, taking roles in Oliver! and the video for the Beatles hit “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Tom Petty: Before they became “Heartbreakers,” he and his cohorts tried their hand at another band: Mudcrutch. Their one single failed to chart, and the band dissolved the next year, only to regroup later as the more successful Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1976.

Diana Rigg: You might know her now as Lady Olenna from HBO’s Game of Thrones, but back in 1967, she was starring in a much different role: the spy Emma Peel on The Avengers. A little more action, but probably a little less murdering-the-king.

Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott: They met on the set of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969 and immediately hit it off, but their love story was delayed. Katharine got married twice before tying the knot for the last time with Sam in 1984. Their love remains just as strong today, as does Sam’s mustache.

Jimi Hendrix: He never learned to read music and played by ear, experiencing the notes and emotions as different colors. “Jealousy is purple,” he said, “I’m purple with rage or purple with anger — and green is envy, and all this.”

Ann-Margret: The Hollywood icon was never shy about her love of motorcycles and tried to ride them on screen whenever possible. She may be 78 now, but according to Ann-Margret, she still loves “caning it” on her Harley-Davidson from time to time.

Suzi Quatro: She never took off in America like she did abroad, with multiple chart toppers in the United Kingdom and Australia. She was the first female bass player to find success as a solo rock star, but she wasn’t always a rocker. Growing up she learned to play music in her dad’s jazz band.

J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn and Alan Hunter: Before YouTube, MTV was the pioneer in music videos, playing clips non-stop all day long. They were MTV’s original VJs who defined the way people listened to music for 30 years.

Steve McQueen: During filming for The Great Escape, he spent most of his downtime racing motorcycles and getting locked up. But Steve didn’t actually perform his most famous on-screen stunt, a dangerous motorcycle jump. Stuntman Bud Ekins did.

Kelly LeBrock: If you don’t know her from her modeling career, you know her from her catchphrase: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” She became an international sensation in the ’80s after starring in box office hits Weird Science and The Woman in Red.

Photographers like Eva Sereny have given us so many of these iconic photos. She (below) specialized in photos taken between takes and behind the scenes. Her work graced the covers of LIFE and Newsweek, but Eva also snapped tons of pictures that we never glimpsed until now…

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1. Cybill Shepherd: Unfortunately, the musical comedy At Long Last Love fizzled out at the box office, but Eva perfectly captured Shepherd’s vulnerability. The actress also made headlines for dating the film’s director, Peter Bogdanovich.

Eva Sereny

2. Marlon Brando: This eccentric method actor had a reputation for being difficult with the press, but he actually welcomed the presence of Eva Sereny. This photo has Brando suavely adjusting his necktie on the set of Last Tango in Paris.

Eva Sereny

3. Meryl Streep: Eva’s photographic prowess earned her the chance to shoot the Sophie’s Choice actress inside an empty New York apartment. The artist felt she had trouble connecting with Streep at the time, but the quality of her work says otherwise.

Eva Sereny

4. Sean Connery and Claudia Cardinale: In between Bond flicks, Connery appeared in the adventure film The Red Tent. Eva snapped him goofing around on set between takes while his co-star Cardinale plays along.

Eva Sereny

5. Clint Eastwood: Away from the bustle of a Hollywood film set, Eva joined Eastwood for a quiet shoot near his home in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. After settling there, the actor/director became mayor of the town in 1986.

6. Kate Capshaw, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford: Archaeology is hard work! That’s why Eva snapped these key players taking a breather on the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Eva Sereny

Eva’s work also has a knack for catching creatives right in the midst of their process. Here, she depicted the working bond between Capshaw and Spielberg, which took a turn a few years later. The two of them married in 1991!

7. Audrey Hepburn: Over the years, Eva forged a strong relationship with Steven Spielberg, who invited her behind the scenes of Always. This project was notable for providing Hepburn with her final film role before retirement.

Eva Sereny

8. Liza Minnelli: Acting in A Matter of Time, which would be her father Vincente Minnelli’s final directorial effort, Liza hauntingly stares past the camera. Eva might have captured some real-life anxiety here, as the studio forced Vincente off the project due to budget and scheduling concerns.

Eva Sereny

9. Luciano Pavarotti: Eva’s skill brought her face-to-face with all aspects of show business. She took the occasional break from movie sets to meet with music personalities, like famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti. He clearly had canines on his mind that afternoon.

Eva Sereny

10. Charlotte Rampling: One of Eva’s strongest professional friendships began when she met Rampling during the production of The Night Porter. A few years later, she caught the actress’ rebellious side as she enjoyed a smoke atop her Ford Thunderbird.

Eva Sereny

11. Al Pacino: Even though Eva politely approached the leading man on the set of Bobby Deerfield, he reacted with scorn. Pacino snapped, “That’s what you do, isn’t it?” before reluctantly agreeing to pose for a few photos.

Eva Sereny

12. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor: While Liz didn’t appear in The Assassination of Trotsky, she rarely left her husband Richard’s side on set. Of course, this was often more out of spite than love. Eva immortalized this intense staredown between the star-studded couple.

Eva Sereny

13. Sigourney Weaver: Ahead of the premiere of Alien, Eva met with Ellen Ripley herself in Paris for a promotional shoot. Evoking the movie’s sci-fi aesthetic, she had Sigourney don a minimalist dress and pose around the futuristic Centre Pompidou museum.

Eva Sereny

14. Anthony Quinn: Though he was in his 70s when shooting The Greek Tycoon, Quinn playfully danced between takes. He enjoyed himself, but audiences positively despised this spin on the romance between Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy.

Eva Sereny

15. Mia Farrow and Robert Redford: These two acting legends shone as Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby in 1974’s The Great Gatsby. Eva was on set, and she didn’t just shoot film stills, either.

Eva Sereny

Eva also shot portraits in between takes to help the performers get in character. For example, this shot features Redford’s swagger shining through as he gets ready to enter the mind of the mysterious playboy.

Eva Sereny

16. Bianca Jagger: When she found some time between her acting and humanitarian projects, the then Mrs. Mick Jagger invited Eva to her home for a photo session. Inside, she snapped some “candid” shots of Bianca exploring her immaculate wardrobe.

Eva Sereny

17. Christopher Reeve: In contrast to his steely public image as Superman, Reeve wanted to show fans the more thoughtful, vulnerable side of him. Eva found that dimension of the actor with a series of him intently playing piano in his home.

Eva Sereny

18. Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford: This portrait has director and star of The Electric Horseman nervously wait for the crew to set up. Eva herself was already at the ready, with an arsenal of four cameras up and running.

Eva Sereny

19. Raquel Welch: When Eva first met this film icon during production of The Last of Sheila, Raquel tried to kick the photographer off the set. However, they later became friends, leading to Welch posing for many more photographs.

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20. Werner Herzog: Eva caught the famed director paging through his notes for Nosferatu the Vampyre. Impressively, he managed to cozy up in a hammock while reading some truly terrifying material.

Eva Sereny

21. Donald Sutherland and Federico Fellini: The photographer described the Italian director as an “artist who worked without brush or palette.” Fellini certainly got to show off his visual talents in this over-the-top retelling of Casanova.

22. Of course, Eva couldn’t take every rare behind-the-scenes snapshot. In this 1968 photo, you can really sense young Arnold Schwarzenegger’s awe of his first time in New York City. This delightful piece of nostalgia is just one of a recently-discovered batch of pics that would make Eva proud!


23. Bill Gates was arrested for driving without a license in 1977, but he doesn’t look like he feels too bad about it here. Perhaps, with his advanced knowledge of electronics, some part of him already knew that he’d turn out just fine as an adult!


24. Muhammad Ali once talked a man out of jumping to his death in 1981. The legendary boxer was such an inspiring figure that it’s easy to see why he was able to make just about anyone feel better about themselves.


25. Quintessential rock stars Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger were seen hanging out in 1969. These men were easily among the most iconic and talented musicians of their generation, so they must have had a lot to talk about!


26. Speaking of Mick Jagger, here are the Rolling Stones in 1963. They look like such troublemakers! Their careers hadn’t quite blown up just yet, but they had to know on some level that they were destined for greatness!


27. Here’s Muhammad Ali goofing off with the Beatles in 1964. This funny photo op occurred at a point when both the band’s and the boxer’s careers were really taking off. Ali had just changed his name from Cassius Clay, and Beatlemania was at a frenzy!


28. Elvis Presley serving in the U.S. Army in 1958. At this point, he was already a well-established rock star. In fact, he was pretty much already the “King of Rock and Roll!” Can you imagine serving alongside him?


29. These are the glasses that John Lennon was wearing when he was shot in 1980. The amount of blood still on them is truly haunting. His murder by Mark David Chapman remains one of the greatest tragedies in the history of rock and roll.


30. Here’s Steven Spielberg in 1980 on his hands and knees while directing Raiders of the Lost Ark. Before CGI and green screen technology became the standard for special effects, scale models like these were commonplace for genre filmmakers.


31. The Beatles play for 18 people at the Aldershot Club in December of 1961. Boy, were things about to change for them! In just a few years, they’d be selling out much larger venues in a matter of seconds!


32. Isn’t it nice when two huge stars get to socialize? That’s director and “Master of Suspense”Alfred Hitchcock enjoying tea with Leo, the MGM lion. Movie fans will undoubtedly recognize his roar at the start of countless films.

33. In 1972, Sammy Davis Jr. visited troops in Vietnam as part of a USO tour. Though the purpose of the program was to halt drug abuse among servicemen, the Rat Pack member couldn’t help but croon a number or two.

34. Music critics liked to hype up the rivalry between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but the musicians were actually close friends. Here, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger share a train car on their way to a meditation retreat in Wales.