In Covid’s Early Days, Her Loss Resonated. She Hopes Her Hope Does, Too.

LOS ANGELES — Amanda Kloots is not surprised that she’s famous.

You don’t move to New York from Ohio at 18, go to countless thanks-but-no-thanks auditions, dust yourself off again and again, or practice tap dance nightly on your small apartment bathroom floor in case a spot in the ensemble for “42nd Street” or the Rockettes opens because you think you are best suited to a life of quiet anonymity.

But she didn’t anticipate the way she’d get there. “It’s such a juxtaposition, it’s such a weird state” to realize your professional dreams because of a huge, public loss, Ms. Kloots, 39, said.

Before the pandemic, she was known to a relatively small social media following as a dancer and fitness instructor. But a few weeks into the quarantine, she became famous for juggling life and grief when Covid-19 unleashed its fury on the lungs of her husband, Nick Cordero, the 41-year-old star of Broadway musicals including “Waitress” and “A Bronx Tale.”

On Instagram, for hundreds of thousands of people glued to their phones and searching for guidance, Ms. Kloots gave voice to the agonies, anxieties and isolation suffered by those whose loved ones were infected by the virus.

When her husband first went into the hospital, in late March 2020, she had about 50,000 followers. But as word spread about a young mother and wife’s frequent social media dispatches, which included daily totems like “AK! Positive Thought of the Day” and a 3 p.m. singalong to “Live Your Life,” a go-for-your-dreams rock anthem written and recorded by Mr. Cordero, Ms. Kloots’s following grew to more than 600,000.

It was the pandemic’s early days, and she urged Americans to take the threat of the disease seriously, to stay home, stay active, stay spiritual, stay hopeful.

“Please sing, please cheer, and please pray for Nick today,” she said to her followers last May. “I know that this virus is not going to get him down. This is not how his story ends.”

Mr. Cordero died in July, after a three-and-a-half month hospitalization. Ms. Kloots became one of America’s best known widows of the early pandemic era, but she didn’t collapse in heartache, at least not publicly.

“In show business, we live our lives in high and lows,” said the theater director and choreographer Susan Stroman, who worked with Ms. Kloots on shows that included “Young Frankenstein” and “Bullets Over Broadway.” “Amanda is a very positive person. In dire times, she will try to will something into being with the force of her positivity.”

Ms. Kloots is now a host of “The Talk,” the CBS morning chat show. Her jump rope-based fitness program, AK! Rope, is offered in Equinox clubs in New York and California. Next week, HarperCollins will publish her memoir, “Live Your Life: My Story of Loving and Losing Nick Cordero.”

She writes of their romance, careers and dreams, and the grief that comes with the quiet. “We always grocery shopped together, at the same store and bought the same things,” she wrote. “Some of those little moments that you would never think of as really mattering have haunted me the most.”

With her sister Anna Kloots, she wrote the book in six months, beginning two weeks after Mr. Cordero died. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done,” Amanda Kloots said last week, her long dancers’ legs stretched out on a couch at a friend’s West Hollywood patio. “But, you know, the story is so sad.”

As the nation pokes its head out from under the covers, Ms. Kloots hopes her experience — though peppered with celebrity cameos and the privileges of being Hollywood-adjacent — will resonate with bereaved partners, suddenly single parents or bystanders unexpectedly caught in the maw of a hospital bureaucracy.

It is among the first Covid-era memoirs, offering a ticktock of her husband’s plight, her search for hope for herself and their son, Elvis, who turns 2 this month, and new details that will surprise even the most avid watchers of her Insta-stories.

As Ms. Kloots reveals in the memoir, she was allowed, unlike most people with sick relatives during the pandemic, to visit her husband at Cedars-Sinai several times a week for the last two months of his life. By then, he had tested negative for Covid three times and was not on a floor with Covid patients.

“I never saw him Covid positive. There was no way they would let me in, and I wouldn’t also do that,” she said, “I was a single parent, and I had to make sure I stayed healthy.” The cycle of audition-rejection-audition-success prepared her for the process of asking every person she could think of to help her get to her husband’s bedside. “I probably would have dressed like a doctor and sneaked in if I needed to,” she said last week, kicking her sandals to the ground beneath her. “There was no stopping me.”

Now Ms. Kloots is processing the sudden end of a new marriage that looked perfect on social media but in real life was real.

Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

“I was not a good wife,” she said, a self-judgment that those who watched her harrowing 95-day vigil on Instagram might dispute. She says, in this way, her book is in part her attempt to be brutally honest with herself and her fans.

Ms. Kloots, action-oriented and a little bit Tracy Flick, met the laid-back Mr. Cordero in 2013 when she was cast in the “Bullets Over Broadway” ensemble, with Mr. Cordero landing a lead role alongside Zach Braff.

Her first marriage was ending, and Mr. Cordero became her confidant, then boyfriend. “A lot of people told me, including Nick, ‘You shouldn’t be dating,’” she said. “I’d say, ‘Nick, right now I just need to be happy, and you make me happy.’”

Though ballyhooed, “Bullets” closed after four months. Ms. Kloots had taken side gigs as a dance teacher and began a pivot into the relatively stable world of fitness entrepreneurship. She created a 50-minute workout around jumping rope. As some of her private training clients, including the Instagram influencer Arielle Charnas, showcased their sessions to followers, Ms. Kloots’s popularity grew.

Mr. Cordero was next cast as Sonny, the male lead of Chazz Palminteri’s “A Bronx Tale,” a Broadway show that ran from late 2016 to August 2018. For a year after, he auditioned frequently but didn’t land a big part.

By then, he and Ms. Kloots were married and soon-to-be expecting a baby. She was teaching half-a-dozen fitness classes a day while Mr. Cordero, exploring a career change into songwriting, rented an East Village studio to record and mix his music.

Evan Agostini/Invision, via Associated Press

“I was not understanding any of it,” she said. “I was like, ‘This is a waste of time, and we have no money.’ He did not feel supported by me. I wasn’t supportive.”

But Mr. Cordero was burned out by the audition grind and told his wife he wanted them to move to Los Angeles, where he could get work acting for television and maybe selling music to production companies. Specifically, he wanted to build their life on the winding streets of Laurel Canyon of which Joni Mitchell sang.

Ms. Kloots resisted at first, pointing out that in New York, her parents had rented the apartment across the hall to help babysit and two of her sisters lived nearby. Plus, Mr. Cordero was known by casting agents there (and not in Los Angeles) and her New York clientele was growing.

“We fought about it for a year,” she said, “and I finally came to a place of, ‘This is marriage, you have to compromise.’”

They moved in the fall of 2019, staying initially in the guesthouse of their friend Mr. Braff. They were still living there, having found a home and started renovations, when Mr. Cordero got sick with what they originally thought was pneumonia. His wife took him to urgent care on March 30. By April 1, he was on a ventilator.

In the memoir, Amanda and Anna Kloots recount Mr. Cordero’s prolonged medical crisis that spring, which included the amputation of one of his legs in an effort to contain an unrelenting infection. Todd Kloots, their older brother, drove from his home in San Francisco to help care for Elvis, while Amanda tried to stay abreast of her husband’s condition and possible treatments. Anna Kloots, recently divorced and living in Paris, also came to Los Angeles, a setup the siblings thought of as a Covid-era retelling of “Three Men and a Baby.”

Already an avid Instagram user, Amanda shared updates with friends, clients and a growing cadre of concerned strangers who were glued to their phones, scrolling for news, leadership and a way to do something communal, and of service, without leaving the house.

It was before George Floyd’s murder, when the national conversation shifted urgently to police violence and systemic racism, including the inequities revealed by the pandemic. The Trump administration was still downplaying the risk of catching the virus or dying from it.

Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

“This was not only about letting her friends and loved ones know what was going on,” Ms. Stroman said. “Amanda was waking up the world to what was happening. In the prime of his life, a man who did eight shows a week with strength and vigor could be taken down by this disease.”

People were messaging Ms. Kloots, asking what they could do. When she played music for Mr. Cordero and saw his vital signs improve, “I knew my mission,” she wrote in the book. She asked her followers to post videos of themselves singing and dancing at 3 p.m. Pacific Time to Mr. Cordero’s “Live Your Life.”

Her singalong became a communal appointment, similar in some ways to the applause and serenades that recognized essential workers in New York, Rome and other cities around the world. By May the song was being played on the radio and Sara Bareilles and the casts of “Waitress” and “A Bronx Tale” performed their own online adaptations. “Live Your Life” eventually hit No. 1 on iTunes.

She received a stream of offers from marketers, film producers, TV writers and documentarians. “I was like, ‘No, no, no and no.’” But when Lisa Sharkey, a senior vice president at HarperCollins (and a one-time attendee of Ms. Kloots’s fitness class) contacted her about a memoir, Ms. Kloots pitched the idea of writing it with Anna, 32, who has always wanted to be a professional writer. (Anna, who worked with and was married to a magician, is writing her own memoir, for an imprint of HarperCollins, called “My Own Magic.”)

When Mr. Cordero was sick and Anna was living with Amanda and Elvis, she took notes, kept journals and recorded her sister’s conversations with doctors. When it came time to write the book, “I had this crazy database of information and notes,” Anna said, in addition to her sister’s archived Instagram updates.

The book comes out as the anniversary of her husband’s death approaches. Just after he died, Ms. Kloots Googled “stages of grief” and printed out what she hoped would be a road map.

It wasn’t. The pain ebbs and flows in unanticipated waves.

She is proud that she is raising Elvis in the Laurel Canyon community her husband dreamed about. Still she struggles with regret.

“I learned to appreciate his music too late,” Ms. Kloots said. “But I’m determined to keep his voice alive.”

Source: Theater -


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