When 2020 began, Nick Cordero and Amanda Kloots were just your average happy showbiz couple, parents of a 6-month-old baby and renovating their house on Love Street in Los Angeles, where they had moved while Cordero starred in a production of Rock of Ages, the musical he made his Broadway debut in eight years ago.
And then their life blew up.
On March 30, Nick went to the ER with what was first diagnosed as pneumonia, but turned out to be COVID-19. He never left the hospital. Over the next few months, family, friends and fans from the theater and fitness worlds—plus countless others who were discovering Cordero and Kloots for the first time—anxiously followed Amanda's updates as Nick started suffering complications. There were good days and bad, and Amanda remained relentlessly positive throughout, but Nick's condition continued to deteriorate.
On July 5, Kloots revealed that her husband—until recently a 6'5" force of vitality, performing six nights a week, a first-time home owner, a proud new dad, a devoted husband—had died. He was 41.
"God has another angel in heaven now," Amanda wrote on Instagram, where this year thousands of people offered their support, love and prayers as the news about Nick wavered between progress and setbacks. "My darling husband passed away this morning. He was surrounded in love by his family, singing and praying as he gently left this earth.
"I am in disbelief and hurting everywhere. My heart is broken as I cannot imagine our lives without him. Nick was such a bright light. He was everyone's friend, loved to listen, help and especially talk. He was an incredible actor and musician. He loved his family and loved being a father and husband. Elvis and I will miss him in everything we do, everyday."
More than 130,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States since February, and grieving has become a permanent posture for so many. But it's this fraught national energy that, as businesses and schools started closing, sports and entertainment shut down, and people were told to stay home, that had people so tuned into this story.
Nick's journey, as relayed by Amanda, gave people something outside of themselves to root for during this pandemic, so when the worst came to pass, the outpouring of grief online was instantaneous.
And though the death of a celebrity generally tends to trigger personal-sounding responses because of the feel-like-I-knew-him factor that so many famous people elicit, Nick Cordero's death landed like a cosmic gut punch.
"I never had the honor of meeting Nick Cordero. By all accounts that was a huge loss for me," actor Steve Kazee, who recently welcomed his first child with Jenna Dewan, paid tribute on Instagram Sunday. "Every person that I know who encountered this human was changed for the better and everyone that I knew that knew him I'm sure felt lucky to do so. I, like so many others, have followed @amandakloots stories every day hoping for a miracle."
He was hardly alone in that sentiment, as so many tributes beginning with a version of "I never knew Nick but I've been following this story" piled up.
Kloots, meanwhile, could only hope for the best and steel herself for the worst. Publicly she tried to stay upbeat, even when you could tell it was difficult. She smiled brightly, told stories, thanked fans for their support and talked about the future, when Nick would be home, ready to resume his life with her and their son, Elvis—and, unbeknownst to Nick, thousands of new admirers.
"When I get to hug Nick again it's going to be like the best day of my life," she said hopefully about 10 weeks ago. "So hug your loved ones. Dance and sing, and let's live our lives, OK?"
Instead, her journey continues without him, but their love story endures, a story that makes it very clear as to why so many people are feeling this loss so deeply.
Nick and Amanda met when they were both doing Bullets Over Broadway, a musical based on the 1994 Woody Allen film of the same name that opened in April 2014. Cordero played Cheech, a gangster and aspiring auteur, while Zach Braff, who would become a close friend, co-starred as a playwright who has to get in bed with the mob in order for his show to go on.
Amanda was a dancer in the ensemble. The Ohio native spent two Christmas seasons as a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall before appearing in shows such as Follies and Young Frankenstein. In her rare spare time, in addition to being a six-days-a-week fitness buff, she also co-wrote the blog Just Desserts NYC, putting a sweet tooth that couldn't be tamed to productive use.
When she joined the cast of Bullets, she was recently divorced following a six-year marriage to actor David Larsen, whom she had met while working on her first Broadway show, Good Vibrations, in 2005.
With most of their days and evenings consumed by Bullets, Cordero and Kloots would go home to their own apartments but end up on Skype for hours each night. During these long chats, Nick played Amanda the songs he was writing on the side, solo rock stardom also being part of the master plan. One of the tunes was "Live Your Life," which at the time only had a chorus, and he would just hum through the rest of the melody.
Despite being nominated for six Tony Awards, including one for Cordero for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Bullets Over Broadway closed after only a few months—but Nick and Amanda were just getting going.
Not long after their final curtain, Kloots went to have dinner at Cordero's apartment in Washington Heights ("upstate," they started calling it, because it took so long to get there from her place on the the Upper West Side) for the first time.
He didn't have a dining room table in his studio apartment, but he did have a showman's romantic soul. Cordero made a picnic for them on the floor, with wine and a supper that included tomato and mozzarella cheese. "Tomato and mozz" on the floor became their tradition, a meal they'd share on their first night in their first apartment together, and then in their second... and a couple of months ago Kloots expressed hope that they'd be having their usual when their home on Love Street was finished and Nick was home from the hospital.
After Bullets ended, Kloots moved away from dancing full-time to focus on her next chapter. "I loved and did it for 16 years, but it got to a point where I was 32 and I wanted certain things in my life," she later explained to The-Void. "The ups and downs of the performing world being in and out of jobs—it just wasn't working for me anymore. I needed consistency and I wanted that control."
Eventually her signature workouts The Rope—in which a jump rope features prominently—and The Dance garnered her a devoted clientele and an even bigger following online.
There were shades of Kloots' if-you-want-it-go-for-it approach when Cordero, asked what sort of advice he had for young actors hoping to be on Broadway one day, told Camp Broadway in 2018, "Start writing. Like in a journal. That gives you good ideas about what you really want to achieve and insights about where you need to go in your career. Or, if you come up unsatisfied with the amount of work you're getting or what kind of work you're getting, try and create your own—it's the oldest trick in the book! Write a play. Do a performance piece. Start an improv group. You've got to try to empower yourself in your career, so just take a risk!"
And he and Kloots did endlessly inspire each other.
For instance, Cordero wasn't much of a jump-roper, she recalled later in one of the myriad stories she told about Nick via Instagram so that the world could better get to know the man fighting for his life in the hospital. When Nick ended up in a coma at L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Kloots started playing "Live Your Life" daily and encouraged fans to post their own videos singing along and dancing to the tune with the hashtag #WakeUpNick.
"What I'm hearing is, if the soul feels grounded, that it'll help wake him up," Amanda explained in May. "I just feel like if he hears his music, if he hears us playing his music, that'll ground him, to wake him up. Because the doctors said, it's all about 'we've got to wake him up'...I think, that if he hears his song, if he hears his music, it's going to help."
She also recalled how Nick, back in the day, would spend quiet time just lying in bed while she had already dashed off five things on her to-do list. He told her that the quiet moments were just as important as the packed, productive ones. Amanda called it his "fantasy land"—and she found it comforting to think that her unconscious husband was once again in "fantasy land," doing what he needed to do to recharge until it was time for him to wake up.
He woke up on May 12.
"Everything is looking good finally," Amanda shared on Instagram. "It's so hard with this whole thing. You don't want to get yourself too excited because it's been such a road. What a miracle."
But back to their early years: As made for each other as they were, their courtship wasn't without its bumps. They broke up at one point early on, and one summer Nick returned to his native Canada to be with his ailing father, who was in the hospital in Ontario.
While he was away, Nick trained every day with a jump rope with an eye on impressing his ex upon his return to New York. When he got back to the city, he asked if she would train him—as friends—and then he started showing off his new skills. It took more than the jump rope, but they were soon back together for good.
Cordero was cast in Waitress, which premiered on Broadway in March 2016, and by the end of the year he was playing Sonny in A Bronx Tale: The Musical—again in a role originated onscreen by Chazz Palminteri, as was his part in Bullets Over Broadway. The show ran for almost two years.
One day they were out in Hudson, N.Y., where they'd regularly go to visit friends, and that was when Amanda encouraged him to finally figure out the rest of the lyrics to "Live Your Life." It was on one those excursions to the Hudson Valley when Nick proposed.
For their first dance as husband and wife, the newlyweds lit up the floor with a choreographed routine set to Harry Connick Jr.'s crooning version of "It Had to Be You"—the song Cordero sang at his audition for Bullets—at their Sept. 3, 2017, wedding at the Skylark lounge in New York. The intimate celebration was inspired by old-school New York glamour.
"Nick and I wrote our ceremony script while on a vacation this past summer," she shared. "We really wanted it to be special because our wedding was so intimate. Our best friend officiated. He concluded the ceremony with 'By the power vested in me by www.howtogetmarried.com...' and got a huge laugh!"
Her Lee Grebenau gown had a sheer skirt that showed off her legs ("something I'd never seen on a bride before"), and she ditched the dress for a Mark Zunino romper at the reception, all the better to dance in.
During their first year of marriage, Cordero was still doing A Bronx Tale and Kloots was focusing on her classes and personal training business, so they were constantly trying to balance their schedules with their rare free moments.
"I try to really make sure that if anyone asks me questions or writes me a DM that I write them back," Kloots told The-Void. "Nick will be like, 'You don't have to answer everyone,' and I'm like 'Yes I do, I really do.' Because they're taking time to write to me so I want to write them back. I mean it's hard, it's just a hard balance. We have Sunday nights and Monday nights together because he doesn't have a show, so I really try to make those days precious and never try to schedule anybody on those evenings so that we always have our Sunday and Mondays together, and then the rest of the week it's just passing in the night."
But they made the most of their time after A Bronx Tale closed in August 2018. They welcomed their son, Elvis Eduardo Cordero, at NYC's Mount Sinai West hospital on June 10, 2019.
And then, that September, they moved to L.A.—where they were already frequent visitors—so Cordero could do Rock of Ages. The production, an immersive nightclub staging at a Hollywood space that became the Bourbon Room, the venue central to the show, opened in October.
In the meantime, Nick and Amanda had started house hunting, thinking they might want to plant some roots in L.A. When they found the fixer-upper listing on Love Street, they knew they had found their home. For starters, it was nestled off of Laurel Canyon, the winding street made famous by the who's who of the music world who called the area home in the 1960s. But the clincher was the piano and, on the wall above it, the photo of Elvis Presley they saw as they walked through the door when they first toured the house. The makeshift shrine to the King on a bookshelf clinched it.
The plan was to be eating tomato and mozz, only this time with baby Elvis rocking nearby, when the house was finished.
Instead, when Nick went into the hospital, Amanda remained with Elvis in Zach Braff's guest house, where they'd been staying during the renovation. Eventually her brother and sister joined them.
"She's a motivational trainer, so she's gone into full on bad-ass crisis dealing mode," Braff marveled to The Hollywood Reporter about Kloots at the end of April. "If you look at her Instagram, she tells stories about him and she motivates other people—she's literally trying to motivate other people."
There was "a nonstop stream of people" visiting, the Scrubs star said. "And [Nick] was in Rock of Ages, the show that they were doing out here, and his Rock of Ages cast literally takes turns taking the baby on stroller walks."
On May 8, Kloots shared the last photo of their family of three that was taken before he was hospitalized on March 30 and then intubated on April 1. He was in a coma and had suffered a litany of problems, including two small strokes and circulation trouble that resulted in his right leg being amputated.
"I ask God for a miracle and my Dad reminded me that God is answering my prayer everyday because he is still with us! Nick is a fighter and has not given up," she wrote. "His doctors and nurses have been truly incredible."
Amanda's indescribably positive energy ruled the day and weeks that followed, even when she announced a few days before his death that "in a perfect world" he would be a candidate for a double lung transplant so that he could live "the kind of life that I know my husband would want to live," let alone a semblance of the life he had lived before COVID-19.
That was a grim diagnosis, but with so many people praying for that miracle, the mass hope that Cordero would pull through, that his body would somehow recover, never seemed misplaced.
But he died on Sunday morning. At least Amanda, who spent weeks not being able to see him due to visitation restrictions in place because of the pandemic, was able to be with him in the end.
And at least she knows that she is not alone.