Nick Cordero was just 41, married and the father of a newborn son when he got sick with what turned out to be the coronavirus.
He was a Broadway performer who stood out, not just because he was six feet five inches tall but also because he managed to charm castmates even while playing menacing characters: an abuser in “Waitress,” a mobster in “A Bronx Tale,” a gangster in “Bullets Over Broadway.” At “Bullets,” he met his future wife, Amanda Kloots, and scored a Tony nomination.
The couple, with their infant son, Elvis, moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 2019, where Cordero was performing in an immersive production of “Rock of Ages” and Kloots was building a fitness business. In March, shortly after returning from a trip to New York, he got sick.
Kloots, who had mastered social media while growing her business, chronicled his journey on Instagram, and hundreds of thousands of people followed along, with many joining her, virtually, in singing “Live Your Life,” a song Cordero had written, each afternoon. But his medical odyssey was unrelentingly tough — in April, a leg was amputated — and his suffering, alongside her determination, became, for many, a face of the pandemic.
On July 5, he died. Kloots and Elvis, after months living in a guest house owned by “Bullets” co-star Zach Braff, have moved into the home where the couple had planned to make a new life in a new city. Instead, this month brought an online memorial and a posthumous album release. In a phone interview, Kloots, who is 38, was warm, poised and direct, breaking down only when asked how she saw her own future. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Q: What do you want Elvis to know about Nick?
A: Oh, gosh. I want our son to be curious because Nick was very curious. I want him to know Nick struggled to make his dreams come true and he never quit. I want him to know his dad was a hard worker. And I’d love for him to know about all the people that he touched, the lives that he touched, and what a good guy he was.
Q: What is your best understanding of how Nick got COVID?
A: It’s almost impossible to know, unfortunately. I asked the doctor that many a time. It’s impossible to pinpoint.
Q: Why do you think the disease hit him so hard?
A: This is the other thing I will rack my brain about sometimes at night. It’s not fair. He was getting better. They were almost going to take him off the vent. And then he got a terrible infection in his lungs and his fever spiked, his blood pressure dropped, his heart stopped and he died for two minutes, and that was the start of the spiral down. It just felt like he could never catch a break.
Q: Do you believe the hospital handled his case well?
A: Yes, I do. But it was a different time, and Nick just got trapped. I think it would be different if he went to the hospital now.
Q: Do you think that if America had responded differently at the start of the pandemic, his situation would have turned out differently?
A: Yeah, sure. I mean, we weren’t prepared. I think anyone working in the hospital would say that, and I’m not even trying to get political. I’m just saying, were we prepared for the pandemic? No. Did we have the information to be prepared? I don’t know, and I’m not even going to go there. But we should have been prepared better, and I do think that if we were, it could have made a difference in a lot of people’s lives, not just Nick.
Q: It was amazing to see how the casts you and Nick had worked with rallied with support.
A: In theatre, Day 1 is hello, and you’re shaking a hand, and by Day 2 you’re dancing with them, holding hands, climbing on top of them, kissing, singing. You become this little family. Nick would always tell me about the “Rock of Ages” crew, and the minute Nick got sick, I was on a Zoom call with the cast. “How can we help? Do you need food?”
The “Waitress” crew put together that beautiful rendition of “Live Your Life.” The whole cast of “A Bronx Tale” would get together and lead prayers. And “Bullets Over Broadway” — I mean, we were living in Zach’s guest house. And as Nick got sick, he’s like, “Don’t you even think about going anywhere else. I got ya.”
Q: You’ve seen how dangerous this disease is. What do you think Broadway should do about reopening?
A: That’s so hard right? I think if there’s anybody that can figure out how to do it and how to do it safely, it’s the Broadway community, because we’re creative and we’re relentless and we want to perform.
Q: How did you start enlisting people to sing “Live Your Life” each day?
A: I thought, if anything’s going to wake him up, it’s going to be the whole world singing his song. He always wanted to be a rock star, and we’re going to make him a rock star. And then it caught on like wildfire.
Q: You and your sister started a T-shirt line together, and now you’re going to collaborate on a book?
A: Yes, I’m writing a memoir about this time, and I’m writing it with Anna Kloots, my sister. It’s about everything I went through, and about positivity and faith and resilience. I started writing when I was in Ohio, with my mom and dad, right after Nick passed. I’ve actually found it to be incredibly therapeutic.
Q: It seems like religion has also been an important part of the way you’re getting through this.
A: I grew up Lutheran, and I’ve been pretty religious my entire life. I’m non-denominational right now, but I’ve always prayed, I’ve always felt comfort going to church, and I don’t know how I would have gotten through without my faith and prayer.
Q: You talk about accepting God’s will, but that has to be hard now.
A: It is hard. You know, to say, “Everything happens for a reason,” and you’re like, “Really?” Like, “Why? Why Nick?” But there were so many times in the hospital, or on a phone call, when I was talking to the doctors, and they would tell me Nick wasn’t going to make it; they would tell me he has an hour or two left to live. And I would pray so hard because it’s how I was able to help. And he would live and he would fight and he would hold on.
But one of the times that that happened, I was praying, and I said, “God, thy will be done. I will never understand if you take him. But it isn’t my will, it’s your will.” It helped me in the hospital, and it helps me today. It’s not that the hospital didn’t do enough. It’s not that I didn’t do enough. It’s God’s will.
Q: I know you hear this over and over, but it is striking how positive you seem.
A: I can’t be in a hole in my life right now, because I have a beautiful little boy that relies on me. And on top of that, it’s what Nick would want me to do. There are parts of every day that I get sad, and there are parts of every day where I cry. But I also have to find the little things throughout the day that make me happy, or else I know I won’t survive.
Q: Tell me about choosing to chronicle Nick’s illness on social media.
A: Nick was sick and in our home for a good week, and I wasn’t saying anything. And then when he went into the hospital, I thought it was important to share: My husband, who is 41 and has no pre-existing conditions, is now in the ICU after just being tired. Also, my business was online, and I was trying to make money for our family, and I thought if I don’t go public, I’ll be living a lie.
Q: Sharing your life on social media leaves you so exposed.
A: So many people will say to me, “Was it so exhausting?” “Was it just so awful?” And I’m like, “Are you kidding me? It was the exact opposite.” I only received help and positivity and prayers and community. Cedars-Sinai would deliver boxes filled with things from people all over the world. I would stand over him, and I would read card after card: “We’re praying for you.” “We’ve made this for you.” “My daughter drew this picture.” “Here’s a frame of our favourite prayer.”
Q: A GoFundMe drive has raised more than $ 1 million. What will you do with the money?
A: Medical bills have been coming in. And thanks to that money, I’ve been able to basically make a little separate living quarters in our house for my family to come and help me through this transition. And I’d also love to take a chunk of that money to help me start an idea that I want to do for Nick.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: We’re heading into the fall and the holidays, so I think that will be hard. But I just try to stay happy and positive, and I’ve been doing little getaways with Elvis where we just go away for the night, just to see parts of California and be by the water. I just plan on getting through these next couple months in the best way I can.
Q: Elvis must help.
A: He does. He’s the cutest little thing. And he’s a very happy little boy. Even when I want to be sad, he’s just so cute that you end up smiling and laughing. He looks like Nick, and he has a lot of Nick’s personality. I can already tell.