When the world first shut down in March 2020, Amanda Kloots had just turned 38. She and her husband, Nick Cordero, were preparing their move from New York City to the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles. And then, shortly after arriving in California with their infant son, Elvis, Cordero got sick.
At first, the couple thought it was pneumonia. Cordero didn’t have what were then considered to be telltale signs of the new and deadly virus sweeping the globe. When Kloots dropped her husband off at the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai, she thought she’d be leaving him for an hour, maybe two. To be COVID-safe, she didn’t hug or kiss him goodbye. It was the last time she ever saw “him as him,” Kloots wrote in her bestselling June book, one of the first major memoirs of the COVID era, Live Your Life: My Story of Loving and Losing Nick Cordero. He died in July 2020, after more than three months in the ICU. He was 41 years old.
Kloots and Cordero met while working together on the short-lived musical Bullets Over Broadway. Kloots was in the ensemble, while Cordero played the supporting lead role of Cheech, which would later earn him a Tony nomination. At the time, Kloots was married to an actor she’d met several years earlier on another show. They had married young, when Kloots was still in her mid-20s, and while she was working on Bullets, her husband was touring the country. The long distance took a toll, and they eventually separated after seven years together.
Kloots suddenly found herself opening up to the tall, dark-haired musician cast as Bullets’ broody gangster. “He became my boyfriend and my best friend simultaneously,” she wrote. Because Kloots was still going through her divorce, she and Cordero dated secretly for a time. She writes that they were “very different people,” which led to a couple of breakups before they got married; perhaps most importantly, Christianity “was at the root of every choice” she made, while Cordero wasn’t religious and didn’t want to raise children in any specific faith. And yet they kept finding their way back to each other. Bullets Over Broadway closed after only 156 performances, but Kloots and Cordero remained close with actor and director Zach Braff, who’d played the show’s main character, David.
Before the pandemic, Kloots had a modest social media following as a dancer and fitness instructor. Soon after Cordero was admitted to the hospital, Kloots began documenting her husband’s fight to survive COVID over Instagram, and her follower count ballooned from about 50,000 to more than 600,000, according to a recent New York Times profile of the “famous COVID widow.” She’s since landed a gig as the cohost of The Talk on CBS, following Sharon Osbourne’s controversial ouster, and her jump rope fitness program is now taught in Equinox gyms in New York and California.
Kloots told the Times reporter, Katherine Rosman, that she and her younger sister, Anna Kloots, a travel influencer and longtime aspiring author, started writing the memoir together two weeks after Cordero died. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done,” she says in the profile. “But, you know, the story is so sad.”
In the book, the Kloots sisters document the devastation that COVID wreaked on Cordero’s body. His leg was amputated, and he suffered from bedsores, lung infections, sepsis, organ failure, and a whole host of other nightmarish conditions. By late May, doctors at the ICU had urged Kloots to consider transferring Cordero to comfort care, where his treatment would switch from life-sustaining to solely managing his pain. “I begged and pleaded with God each day,” she wrote. “If you are going to take Nick, please don’t make us make that choice.”
From Cordero’s first moments in the hospital, Kloots believed that he would get better and return home to his wife and child. One of the reasons thousands of people started tuning into Kloots’ daily Instagram Live videos, in which she’d do workouts and sing one of Cordero’s own songs, “Live Your Life,” in an effort to #WakeUpNick, is her seemingly boundless positivity. With type A ambition, a big, pretty smile, and a fitness trainer’s upbeat attitude, she encouraged her friends, family, and followers worldwide to will her husband back to health with the power of music and prayer.
"It's been so wonderful ... the outreach, I can't keep up," Kloots told BuzzFeed News a week into Cordero’s hospitalization. "The prayers and the thoughts and the people who are joining me in my live workouts or my online workouts ... it just has been honestly overwhelming." At the time, multiple influencers were being called out for flaunting their privilege in the face of the coronavirus, and Kloots acknowledged "the climate has changed" for online content creators. "It's hard to put on your brand-new dress and take your photo," she said. "It definitely is a different Instagram world. But you know, maybe we needed that little check-in with reality and life and what we have to be grateful for."
During an unprecedented period of mass disinformation and despair, when millions of people were stuck inside their homes, scared and often alone, Kloots’ daily updates about Cordero’s fluctuating health simultaneously provided a grim reality check — even young and healthy people could get seriously ill from this virus — as well as a ray of hope. If this mother of a 10-month-old with a husband in the ICU could get up every day, work out, and beam an endless stream of positivity out into the world, then maybe the rest of us could too.
But some fans who’d eagerly tuned into Kloots’ daily updates, cheered her on from afar, donated to her popular GoFundMe, and mourned with her when Cordero died were surprised to learn, after picking up Live Your Life, that positivity hadn’t been the only thing keeping Kloots afloat through those terrible months of losing her husband. While Kloots successfully avoided flaunting her privilege a year ago, when influencer culture was seemingly cratering under the weight of pandemic inequities, her memoir belatedly reveals the extent to which the wealthier and well-connected — even those who suffered the tragedy of loss — were experiencing an entirely different kind of pandemic than hundreds of thousands of grieving families around the world.
Some fans were shocked to discover the extent of Kloots’ privileges.
Kloots received help and financial support from celebrities like Braff, in whose guest house she lived while hers was under construction, and Jennifer Love Hewitt, who funded a 1st birthday party for Elvis. She’s since become friends with Sarah Michelle Gellar, whose blurb for the book claims that Kloots’ story gave her “a renewed belief in the goodness of humankind.” Broadway producers and at least one unnamed A-lister made sure Kloots and her family were well fed and housed in luxury accommodations throughout the ordeal. The UPS delivery driver was their “own personal Santa Claus,” delivering toys, clothes, food, flowers, and “gifts and goodies” daily. Friends also covered the cost of a private healthcare team to work alongside Cordero’s ICU doctors.
When Kloots’ inspirational videos about her husband’s condition first went viral, she and Cordero were both unemployed Broadway actors, and she hustled to bring her workouts to the digital world to support her family. To be sure, most people in her situation would gladly accept the kindness of friends and strangers alike during a personal crisis, no matter how extravagant. (At one point, according to the book, Braff pulled strings with the Canadian border to get Cordero’s family to Los Angeles despite the COVID travel ban that’s still separating families today.)
But merely accepting an extraordinary amount of help is a different thing entirely than documenting it extensively in a bestselling book. When Kloots first publicized her story, she successfully universalized it: Her supporters could easily imagine being in her shoes. She was relatable, a hardworking mom and wife who just wanted her husband to get better. Now readers were seeing behind the curtain. Had Kloots revealed too much?
One reviewer for the memoir on Amazon wrote, “I was dismayed at the special treatment Amanda and her family received. … Nick was not more deserving of a last visit with his son than any other father who died without seeing his children again. … Of course, I would check myself by asking if I would deny this special access myself to my dying loved one. … But I would certainly not write a book about it.”
While reading Live Your Life, my heart hurt for Kloots, forced to watch her husband waste away before her eyes, and for their young son. At the same time, I was troubled by the sheer scale of special privileges provided to her family — from powerful cultural figures to medical institutions and even the federal government — and Kloots’ apparent inability or unwillingness to frame her story as exceptional, let alone as one single, tragic thread out of an entire tapestry’s worth of collective loss from COVID-19.
The massive amounts of goodwill she inspired are framed throughout the memoir as simply the results of positive thinking, prayer, and humility. “When I look back now on the help I received, I can only see God behind all of it,” she writes early in the book. “Every day I prayed for a miracle, and every day miracles appeared … I have always believed that people are innately good, and that we should ask for help when we need it and accept help when it’s offered. … I saw each act of kindness as an act of God.”
I didn’t follow Kloots when she was posting her Instagram Lives about Cordero last year, and I was curious about what those who did might think about the book’s revelations. What I found in a number of reader reviews and comment threads across the internet, including on a blog post about Kloots’ new $2 million home — the safest places, perhaps, to express criticisms of someone who’s suffered a profound loss — is that some fans were shocked to discover the extent of Kloots’ privileges, most of which she didn’t disclose to her followers at the time.
In early Instagram updates, for example, Kloots told her audience that she wasn’t allowed to visit Cordero in the ICU — which was the case for countless families worried for their loved ones hospitalized with COVID worldwide — but in her memoir, Kloots reveals that Cedars-Sinai did allow her to visit, many times. “The hospital asked me not to publicize that I was visiting,” she writes, sensing they were worried about creating a “media spectacle.” She was “conflicted about keeping the information from an army of people cheering for” them, but she was convinced that her presence would help wake Nick up, and she wasn’t willing to jeopardize her relationship with the hospital. Much of the book is devoted to her fighting for more and more visitation rights, and her deep frustrations on days when she’s afforded, for example, “only” four hours in the ICU. (When reached for comment about Kloots’ battles with administrators, a representative for Cedars-Sinai said they could neither confirm nor deny that any individual has been a patient there due to state and federal patient privacy laws.)
At one point, the ICU director explained to Kloots that the “special treatment” they had been giving her wasn’t fair. “Some families had never been allowed to see their loved ones; they simply couldn’t let me visit every day,” she wrote. “Now that I was becoming recognizable in the media, I think their concerns doubled that I would be recognized entering or leaving the hospital. Word that they were ‘breaking the rules’ for me would get out.” She’s aware of the advantages, but she isn’t going to pass them up or second-guess why her family should be the one who benefits: “I knew this was true, and they were right. But it was a hard pill to swallow, and still I fought back.”
Another reviewer on the book’s Amazon page had started following the couple’s story on Instagram after hearing about it on Zach Braff’s podcast. “I loved how much Amanda made herself vulnerable to strangers and how much of the story she shared every day,” they wrote. “Once I heard about her book deal, I knew I wanted to read it, even though I felt like I already knew the story from following her on Instagram. Boy was I wrong!”
The reader was bothered by what they saw as “the immense [amount] of privilege that was on display throughout the entire book.” Not only was Kloots’ ability to bring many family members to Los Angeles and into the hospital itself “NOT the reality that almost all other covid families faced” — more significantly, “Amanda didn't really seem aware of it. … My family and I did not lose anyone to Covid, thankfully, but I imagine if we had, reading this would feel like a stab in the back.”
That certainly isn’t the case for all readers. One reviewer wrote that they lost their dad due to COVID, “and it makes me happy that Amanda got to [say] goodbye, a thing that I did not have the opportunity to do.” For others, however, Kloots’ tirades against the hospital’s visitation policies stung. “When my dad died in the hospital due to a massive heart attack my mom would have given anything to have a nap with him one last time,” wrote a reviewer named Nicole. “To read about the audacity [Kloots] had when she wasn't allowed to go in or she wasn't given the amount of time she felt she deserved with her husband made me want to tear the book up and throw it in the fireplace.”
At one point, Kloots does write that she “was all too aware of the privilege” of seeing Nick in the ICU. It’s a throwaway acknowledgment, one of surprisingly few throughout the book, that her situation was anomalous. Far more common are her complaints about the time limits the hospital imposed on her visits.
“It was a daily battle to be allowed into the hospital, and I still didn’t understand why,” she writes. “The rules continued to change every day, adding to the rollercoaster of emotions I already felt.” At one point, though, the hospital did offer her a very clear reason, in addition to their fears of a media spectacle: “They didn’t think that I was following the Safer at Home order and taking quarantine rules seriously,” she writes. Hospital administration had seen her Instagram posts featuring her hangouts with family and friends. Hearing this, “it took all my energy not to explode. Nick needed me! I needed him. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
Instead of giving the hospital’s concerns about COVID protocols credence, she came up with a theory about why she wasn’t allowed to visit more: “Some people thought I was crazy, unstable.” She felt her ideas for Cordero’s continuing treatment weren’t being respected by hospital staff, especially after a period in late May when one of his doctors told her that Nick was going to die in the ICU and it was time to move him to comfort care. He had woken up, to the extent that his eyes tracked people across the room, but he hadn’t shown any other improvements. “When I do a bronch sweep on him, he looks right up at me, and I see pain in his eyes,” one doctor told her. “They haunt me for the rest of the night. No treatment is going to help him now.”
For Kloots, there’s nothing more valuable than a good attitude.
Kloots was stunned at these “exact and brutal” words, and in the book’s most climactic moment, she gives a roomful of doctors a piece of her mind: “I am sick of this uncertainty. I am sick of being told that I should put him in comfort care. I’m sick of being looked at like a sad puppy. I am strong, and Nick needs help, and I am not giving up yet.” She frequently notes that she much preferred speaking with the doctor her friends had paid for, who always had a much more positive outlook on the chances of keeping Cordero alive long term. It was July when Kloots remembered a conversation she’d once had with her husband, who’d told her he “would never want to be kept alive by machines in a hospital bed.” He was soon afterward put in comfort care, where he died.
If Kloots’ memoir has a specific call-to-arms beyond “stay positive,” or “always look for silver linings,” it might be something like, “Ask for help when you need it” — from friends, from strangers, from God. At one point, Kloots writes about getting a personal call from the head doctor at Cedars-Sinai, and she marvels: “All of this because I asked for help.”
Of course, “just asking for help” is likely to yield fantastic results if you happen to have a large social media following and friends in high places. But Kloots encourages her readers and followers to simply adopt a positive mindset, so that they may similarly emerge empowered and triumphant after personal tragedy. She continues to post one “AK! Positive thought of the day” on her Instagram stories, and the Kloots sisters have started a T-shirt business, called Hooray For, featuring different celebratory taglines — Hooray for life! Hooray for love! Hooray for sunshine! — from which 50% of proceeds are donated to the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. “We woke up every day to trauma and tragedy,” Kloots writes about the birth of their business. “But rather than focusing on the bad, we were choosing to count our blessings.”
Live Your Life details the way that one individual woman was able to navigate bureaucracy and survive a devastating loss — and concludes that much of what holds back women and mothers is their inability to believe in themselves. For Kloots, there’s nothing more valuable than a good attitude, which, while a valuable element of one’s overall emotional Rolodex, can become severely limiting — even toxic — when embraced above all else.
Positivity plus privilege got Kloots through a horrible time in her life, and no one should begrudge her for that. But a “willingness to accept help from an entire community of people,” noted in Live Your Life’s book jacket as one of Kloots’ saving graces, is not a transferable prescription for success, whether during a personal crisis or any other experience in a pandemic-ravaged world. If only surviving — even thriving — during a period of such widespread, profound grief and despair were an option afforded to more than just the wealthy few. If only smiling through the pain were enough. ●