Jerry Cusack, a leading figure in Long Island's hospitality industry for 35 years and owner of the historic Babylon Carriage House, a restaurant that helped spur downtown renewal, has died. He was 56.

Cusack died Friday at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore of a heart attack. "It's a tremendous loss," said Cindy Cusack, his wife and partner for the past 20 years. "He was the kindest man you'd ever want to meet. He was very generous, warm and loving. . . . He was my best friend."

Cusack, a Brightwaters resident, opened his "dream restaurant" in 2003, spending 18 months to renovate a Civil War-era carriage house. Complete with a grand staircase, a large rock fireplace and a floor-to-ceiling wine rack at the main entrance, the restaurant combines classic and modern design, with impressive wood beams from the 1890s spanning the second-floor dining room.

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"He took a rundown car repair shop that was dilapidated, and transformed it -- preserving its historic character -- into Main Street's biggest restaurant," said Patrick Halpin, former Suffolk County executive. "It was an enormous risk, but it paid off because he was a South Shore guy who believed in the downtown's potential."

The 11-year-old restaurant is a culmination of Cusack's two decades of work in the hospitality business, during which he owned a series of pubs, nightclubs and grills from Wantagh to Hauppauge starting in 1981.

Among the establishments he owned were Houligan's in Wantagh and Heffron's Cafe and Bar in Hauppauge. Cusack later renamed Heffron's to Brennan's, making it an early Irish pub on the Island in which all the furniture was made in Ireland and shipped here. In the same Hauppauge shopping center, Cusack also owned a bar and grill.

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"He loved the business," said his wife, who first met Cusack while working at Heffron's and married him in 1994. "He was an excellent marketer, always promoting the business."

He also won friends with his sense of humor. "April Fool's was one of his favorite days of the year," she said, adding that her husband was fond of poker, especially Texas Hold 'Em.

"Jerry Cusack is one of those people you are lucky to meet in your lifetime," said Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio. "He was kind, politically smart and a good friend."

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Cusack was also a leader in industry efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to slow down legislation to bar smoking in restaurants and other public places.

"He was persistent, but resilient -- he'd draw a line in the sand, but was always willing to talk," said former Suffolk legislative counsel Paul Sabatino. By winning early compromises, he added, "Cusack gave his industry a chance to adjust to the new world order and absorb the economic impact."Born in Lindenhurst, Cusack was one of four children. He graduated from Lindenhurst High School in 1976 and LIU Post in 1980, with a bachelor of science degree, majoring in health education.

Other survivors include two daughters Joan Cusack of West Islip, and Casey Cusack of Brightwaters; two brothers, Kevin of West Islip, and Kenny, of upstate Kerhonkson; and one sister, Joan McGuirk of upstate Windsor.

A wake will be held Tuesday at Chapey's Funeral Home in East Islip from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and from 7 to 9:30 p.m. A Mass will be celebrated 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Bay Shore. Burial will follow at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Bay Shore.