Nick Cordero, Nominated for Tony as Tap-Dancing Tough Guy, Dies at 41

The Broadway actor’s battle with the coronavirus was followed closely by many as his wife chronicled his experience on social media.

Nick Cordero starred as Sonny in the musical “A Bronx Tale,” which opened on Broadway in 2016.
Nick Cordero starred as Sonny in the musical “A Bronx Tale,” which opened on Broadway in 2016.Credit...Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Michael Paulson

Nick Cordero, a musical theater actor whose imposing height — 6 feet 5 inches — and effortless charm brought him a series of tough-guy roles on Broadway, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 41.

His death, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was announced on Instagram by his wife, Amanda Kloots. She did not cite a cause, but he had been in the hospital for three months after contracting the coronavirus. The couple moved from New York to Los Angeles last year.

Mr. Cordero’s experience with the virus, which included weeks in a medically induced coma and the amputation of his right leg, was chronicled by Ms. Kloots on Instagram.

Mr. Cordero’s big break came in 2014, when he played Cheech, a gangster with a fondness for theater and a talent for tap in a musical adaptation of Woody Allen’s 1994 film “Bullets Over Broadway.” The role earned him a Tony nomination for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical. (James Monroe Iglehart won for “Aladdin.”)

“Mr. Cordero never pushes for effect, even when he’s leading a homicidal dance number to ‘’Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do,’” Ben Brantley wrote in his review in The New York Times. “And somehow, this dopey, mass-murdering thug and the actor playing him stand out as being far more endearingly earnest than anybody else.”

He went on to play the abusive husband of the title character in “Waitress” and a mentoring mobster in “A Bronx Tale.”

“The terrific Mr. Cordero radiates a cool charisma that mixes a surface geniality with shrugging ruthlessness” in “A Bronx Tale,” Charles Isherwood wrote in his Times review.

Mr. Cordero fell ill on March 20 with what was initially diagnosed as pneumonia and later as Covid-19, Ms. Kloots said in her Instagram posts.

He was kept alive for weeks, she said, through the use of a ventilator, dialysis and a specialized heart-lung bypass machine; he endured brief heart stoppage, minor heart attacks and sepsis, Ms. Kloots said, as well as the leg amputation and a tracheotomy.

As he remained unresponsive, she began daily playing a song that he had written, “Live Your Life,” and encouraging others to do so as well. Many people joined in online, sharing videos of themselves singing and dancing as they tried to encourage his recovery with the hashtag #WakeUpNick.

Alumni of musicals like “Waitress,” “Good Vibrations” and “Rock of Ages” recorded online performances for him, as did a group of musicians led by Constantine Maroulis and Steven Van Zandt.

“We sang it to him today, holding his hands,” Ms. Kloots said in her Instagram post announcing his death. She said that as she sang lines from the song’s last verse — “They’ll give you hell but don’t you let them kill your light/Not without a fight” — “I smiled because he definitely put up a fight.”

While Mr. Cordero was hospitalized, Ms. Kloots and her family had been living in a guesthouse owned by the actor Zach Braff, Mr. Cordero’s co-star in “Bullets Over Broadway.” He said on Twitter, “Don’t believe that Covid only claims the elderly and infirm.”

Ms. Kloots’s updates on Instagram occasionally had encouraging news; on April 24 she said that Mr. Cordero had tested negative in two tests for Covid-19. “We think the virus is out of his system,” she wrote. On May 12, she said he had woken up after a long medically induced coma.

But a lung infection persisted, and by May 20 she told her followers that “unfortunately things are going a little downhill at the moment.” In recent weeks he had been able to respond with his eyes to some communication but otherwise remained immobile, she said.

ImageZach Braff, left, and Mr. Cordero in the musical adaptation of “Bullets Over Broadway” in 2014. Mr. Cordero was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance.
Zach Braff, left, and Mr. Cordero in the musical adaptation of “Bullets Over Broadway” in 2014. Mr. Cordero was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance.Credit...Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Nicholas Eduardo Alberto Cordero was born on Sept. 17, 1978, in Hamilton, Ontario, to Eduardo and Lesley Cordero. His father was originally from Costa Rica. Both parents were teachers.

Nick performed frequently as an adolescent in school shows and at local theaters. He attended Ryerson University in Toronto to study acting but dropped out to join a band called Love Method.

His professional acting career began with “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” in Toronto, followed by a two-year stint working on cruise ships.

He moved to New York in 2007, and by 2008 he was starring in a small musical called “The Toxic Avenger,” first in New Jersey and then Off Broadway.

“Mr. Cordero morphs convincingly from supernerd to slime-dripping hulk, retaining traces of geekery that glimmer appealingly from under the neon-green gunk,” Mr. Isherwood wrote in The Times.

After a period of unemployment, Mr. Cordero was cast in the national tour of “Rock of Ages” and in 2012 joined the Broadway cast of that long-running show; another stretch of joblessness prompted him to consider a career in real estate.

But then he landed his breakout role in “Bullets Over Broadway.” It was also there that he met Ms. Kloots, who was a dancer in the ensemble. (She is now a fitness trainer.)

In addition to his wife, his survivors include their 1-year-old son, Elvis.

In Los Angeles this year, Mr. Cordero returned to a familiar show reconceived for a new setting, appearing in a bar-based version of “Rock of Ages,” staged in a nightclub.

In a 2014 interview, he reflected on the challenge of finding his way into the roles coming his way.

“The producer kept telling me, ‘Get tough. Get mean. Get angry,’ ” he said. “But I’m a nice guy. I’m Canadian.”