Paul Raley, Writer for David Letterman and 'Grace Under Fire,' Dies at 71

Paul Raley - S 2015
Courtesy of Kathy Quinnan

Paul Raley - S 2015

He played the wacky conspiracy theorist P.J. Rails on Letterman’s (very) short-lived NBC daytime show in 1980.

Paul Raley, a comedian who was a regular on David Letterman’s short-lived daytime show and a writer and producer on the 1990s ABC comedy Grace Under Fire, has died. He was 71.

Raley, who was in declining health for several years, died of a heart attack on June 6 in Los Angeles, the WGA reported.

On NBC’s five-days-a-week The David Letterman Show, which aired from June to October 1980 before being canceled, Raley wrote for the program and developed and appeared as comic character P.J. Rails, a former FBI agent and screwball conspiracy theorist who claimed to have proof that John F. Kennedy’s assassination had actually been carried out by sportscaster and former St. Louis Cardinals catcher Joe Garagiola.

As evidence, Rails produced large, blown-up photos of Garagiola in full catcher’s gear and leaning out of a window at the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. He also claimed that Garagiola (who was in on the joke, of course) was at the wreckage of Glenn Miller’s plane and attended the first Beatles concert.

Raley later performed as P.J. Rails at the Comedy Store.

Raley served as a writer, executive story editor and producer on Carsey-Werner’s Grace Under Fire, which starred stand-up comic Brett Butler as a divorced mother and recovering alcoholic trying to raise three kids in a small Missouri town.

Raley also wrote for such shows as Saturday Night Live, D.C. Follies, Night Court and Harry and the Hendersons.

A Pittsburgh native and graduate of Duquesne University, Raley moved to New York in the late 1960s and worked at Grey Advertising before joining Letterman’s show.

His marriage of more than 30 years to Michele Connors ended with her death in 2012. Survivors include his sister, Kathy, and many cousins, nephews and nieces.

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