Born in Queens, NY, Barney served in th U.S. Army Air Corps as a navigator during World War II and then was an NYPD officer for twenty years, working his way up to detective. He got his start as a comedian while still a police officer, giving humorous presentations to the deputy commissioners.
Entering show business as a stand-in for Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners in 1955-56 and as a part-time writer for Steve Allen in the 1950s, he was discovered by Mel Brooks in 1968, who cast him in The Producers. That year, he also played the role of Hank in Charly. He went on to act in dozens of films, including the role of Liza Minnelli's unemployed father in the hit 1981 film Arthur and its 1988 sequel, Arthur 2: On the Rocks. He also made many guest TV show appearances, which included The Odd Couple, The Tony Randall Show, Mama's Family, 21 Jump Street (its pilot episode), Murphy Brown, and The Wayans Bros.,
Despite the fact that Morty was Jewish, Barney was Irish Catholic. He served in the US Air Force and was an NYPD officer for twenty years.
Barney lost his battle with lung cancer on March 21, 2005. He was 82 years old.