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Actor/Bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay

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Actor and Bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay

by Sandy Cohen

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Actor and Bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay

LOS ANGELES, California -- Mickey Hargitay, the actor and world champion bodybuilder who was married to 1950s sex siren Jayne Mansfield and whose daughter is Emmy Award-winning actress Mariska Hargitay, died on Thursday, September 14, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 80. The cause of death was multiple myeloma.

The Hargitay Family issued a statement through publicist Gary Mantoosh. "Words cannot express how saddened we are by the loss of Mickey," the statement said. "At the same time, we are so grateful for who he was and is to all of us, and for the love he gave us in our lives. He will continue to be our source of inspiration and strength."

Born Miklos Hargitay on January 6, 1926, in Budapest, Hungary. Hargitay's father, Mozee said, was athletic and brought up his sons as athletes. They had an acrobatic act that they performed in the largest opera house in Budapest and throughout Hungary.

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Actor and Bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay

"Mickey later became an outstanding soccer player, and his brother got him into speed skating," Mozee said. "He became the middle European speed-skating champion." An underground fighter during World War II, Hargitay fled Hungary after the war and moved to the United States.

He began bodybuilding in 1947 after moving to Indianapolis. "He walked into a gym one day out of curiosity, never having lifted a weight before," Mozee said. "He lifted 215 pounds over his head, which astounded the gym owner, because Mickey weighed about 180 pounds."

Hargitay started competing about four years later, winning local events such as Mr. Indianapolis and Mr. Eastern America. During his early years in Indianapolis, Hargitay worked as a builder and did an adagio act with his first wife, Mary, in nightclubs. Their marriage ended in divorce.

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Rev. Kenneth W. Knox presides as Mickey Hargitay

and actress Jayne Mansfield exchange their wedding

vows on January 14, 1958.

Hargitay interest in bodybuilding grew intensely in the 1950s and he was named Mr. Universe, Mr. America and Mr. Olympia in 1955. Hargitay's segue from bodybuilding to show business came after he was discovered by aging Hollywood sex symbol Mae West.

Hargitay parlayed his perfect physique into a performing career when West tapped him to be part of the cast of musclemen in her nightclub act, the Mae West Revue. West had spotted Hargitay on the cover of Strength and Health Magazine.

It was during that revue that Hargitay caught the eye of Jayne Mansfield on stage in New York in 1956. When Mansfield was asked what she would like that evening, she reportedly responded: "I'll have a steak and the man on the left!" The handsome couple were married in 1958.

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Actor Mickey Hargitay on the dance floor with his

wife, screen vixen Jayne Mansfield

That same year, he made his big-screen debut in the film, "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue." Hargitay, whose film credits included "Bloody Pit of Horror," starred opposite his wife in four films: "The Loves of Hercules," "Promises! Promises!," "Primitive Love" and "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?"

For two years, beginning in 1959, Hargitay hosted a television exercise show. Hargitay and Mansfield also appeared together in a nightclub act. The couple had three children together, including Mariska, before divorcing in 1964. Unfortunately, three years later, Mansfield tragically died in a car crash in 1967 while driving with her children in New Orleans.

"I enjoyed my career," Hargitay once said. "I never wanted to be any more than what I was, and I had fun doing it." Hargitay, who became a successful contractor and real estate investor, "was the epitome of the word 'gentleman,'" said John Balik, publisher of Iron Man magazine.

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Hargitay picks up his injured children from

the hospital after the auto crash that killed

their mother. Hargitay holds Mariska, in the

wheelchair is Mickey Jr. and Zoltan (right)

"The kind of feeling you got from him was just a really genuine guy," Balik told The Los Angeles Times on Monday. "He had a lot of accolades and success in his life, but you never felt that."

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who played Hargitay in the 1982 TV movie, "The Jayne Mansfield Story," offered his condolences and called Hargitay "a magnificent individual."

"Mickey was such an inspiration and always had such a positive attitude," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "He was a role model of mine for being a successful immigrant who came to this country and pursued his dreams."

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Ellen and Mickey Hargitay

Schwarzenegger also recalled Hargitay the successful businessman: "He was always very good in making one dollar into two. So that was another thing he had going for himself that was inspirational, and he loved his family and children. So he was really a great idol to have."

Hargitay's career continued after his divorce with appearances in a half-dozen Italian films and horror flicks. He even guest-starred in a 2003 episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," the show in which his daughter Mariska plays a leading role.

When she won an Emmy for her work last month, Mariska tearfully thanked her father, "because he is the reason I'm standing here today." His daughter, Mariska Hargitay, 42, just had her first child, son August, with husband Peter Hermann this past summer.

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Mariska Hargitay with her dad, Mickey Hargitay

"My dad's a bit of a superhero," Mariska Hargitay told the National Public Radio show "Fresh Air" last year. Last May, he received the Muscle Beach Hall of Fame Award from the Muscle Beach Historical Committee.

Recently, Mariska abruptly abandoned her scheduled appearances on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Access Hollywood" to stand by his side when he fell ill. A private funeral service was held on Sunday for Hargitay's family.

Hargitay is survived by his wife of 38 years, Ellen, and five children: two sons, Mickey Jr. and Zoltan; two daughters, Mariska and Tina West and one stepdaughter, Jayne Fenley. He also leaves behind one brother Eddie; one sister, Eva Nemeth; 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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