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Sunny Balzano of Beloved Red Hook Bar Sunny's Passes Away at 81

He turned Sunny's into a destination.

Sunny Balzano, proprietor of legendary Red Hook bar Sunny's, passed away Thursday evening at age 81, according to his son. He suffered a stroke, went into a coma, and was taken off life support, Gothamist reports, surrounded by loved ones.

Balzano's family has owned the bar since the late 1800's, but Balzano, an artist, turned Sunny's into the artistic center of Red Hook after he took it over in the early 1990s. He was a neighborhood charmer with an affection for people that "makes even strangers feel welcome," locals have said. Balzano's stories — and gift for storytelling — inspired both a documentary and a book about his life, with tales of being held at gunpoint, childhood in Brooklyn, and partying with Andy Warhol.

The bar closed for nearly a year after Sandy damages, and after that, the family pressured Balzano and his wife Tone Balzano Johansen to sell the place. They refused. In a 2011 profile in the Brooklyn Paper, Balzano talked of health problems, but even then, he insisted on going back to the bar. "Everything I love is right here," he said. "I'm not going anywhere."