Mariska Hargitay was in the 1967 car accident that tragically killed her mother, '50s- and '60s-era blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield, as well as the 19-year-old driver, Ronald B. Harrison, and Mansfield's lawyer and then-boyfriend, Samuel S. Brody. So were Mansfield's other two children from her marriage to ex-husband and former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay.
While all three adults were thrown from the vehicle and died, Mariska, then three, asleep in the backseat, and her brothers, 8-year-old Mickey Jr. and 6-year-old Zoltan, survived.
Although the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit actress, 53, has said she doesn't remember the crash, the scar on the side of her head has served as a reminder. So have constant comparisons to her similarly gorgeous and whip-smart (her IQ was apparently 163) mom, which have followed Hargitay throughout her career. Now, more than 50 years after the accident, she opened up about losing her mother in an interview with People.
The actress told the publication:
"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. ... 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."
The car had been traveling from Biloxi, Mississippi, to New Orleans, where Mansfield was to appear on television. Ahead of them, a truck was spraying mosquitoes, emitting a thick white fog that may have obscured Harrison's vision, causing the collision at full speed.
The accident robbed Hargitay of the chance to get to know Mansfield, who was just 34 when she died and is most remembered for her roles in The Girl Can't Help It (1956), The Wayward Bus (1957), and Promises! Promises! (1963), as well as her dead on Marilyn Monroe impressions and publicity stunts.
"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 continued to People, tearing up. "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."
The mother and daughter also share an uncanny resemblance. "Someone once said about [remembering] my mother: 'All you have to do is look in the mirror,'" she added. "She's with me still."
A post shared by Mariska Hargitay (@therealmariskahargitay) on May 5, 2014 at 7:10am PDT
But, as the actress said to Closer Weekly in August, those kinds of comparisons weren't always easy to hear. "In some ways, being the daughter of a Hollywood icon has been a burden," the publication quoted Hargitay as saying. "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."
The Emmy award-winning actress and Joyful Heart Foundation founder said something similar to Redbook in 2009, adding, "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."
Having kids (August, Amaya, and Andrew, whom she shares with husband Peter Hermann), she said, has helped her heal.
"Being a wife and mother is my life, and that gives me the most joy," Hargitay continued to Closer Weekly. "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."
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