When Bernadette Peters tells the story, her first meeting with Michael Wittenberg always has the kismet-like quality of a Broadway opening scene. There she was in front of her Manhattan apartment building, waiting for her date, when Wittenberg, clad in a tuxedo, walked up and asked, "Are you ready to go?" Laughing, Peters observed that he was missing a button. "I'd sew it on if I had a needle and thread," she said. Wittenberg raced to a tailor shop and found both. She kept her word—then they parted ways. When the button fell off that evening, Wittenberg gave it—and his card—to Peters's doorman. A little over a year later, in July 1996, the pair wed. Asked in 2000 what she couldn't live without, the Broadway star replied simply, "My husband."

On Sept. 26, Peters lost her husband when he was killed in a helicopter crash in Montenegro in southeastern Europe. Wittenberg, 42, an investment adviser, was on a business trip and was one of four people to die in the crash, which may have been caused by the rotor blade striking a power line. The couple's 14-year age difference had been bridged by a mutual passion for animals, theater and each other. "He made me feel safe," Peters, 57, once said, "and I did that for him."