Role in The Simpsons
Barney's father, Arnie Gumble, was a World War II veteran who died in 1979 in a parade float accident. Little is known about his mother, except that she lives in Norway and that she served in the United States Navy, including duty on a submarine. She is seen in the season nine episode "Simpson Tide". In Treehouse of Horror XVII, Barney stated that he was Polish, after mistakenly saying he was Irish in a drunken stupor. Barney was born on April 20 (which Homer remembers is also Hitler's birthday in "Viva Ned Flanders" and Barney's entry into the Springfield Film Festival in "A Star Is Burns" where Barney states that he is 40 years old). In the episode "$pringfield", he claims that he studied dance for several years, including modern and tap.
Two episodes give different reasons for his alcoholism. "Mr. Plow" suggests that Barney was a dedicated student looking forward to a bright future. He had his mind set on going to Harvard University, until Homer introduced him to beer the day before the SATs. Season 16's "She Used to Be My Girl" attributes his drinking to his high school girlfriend Chloe Talbot leaving Springfield to pursue a journalism career.
In "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", Barney formed a barbershop quartet with Homer, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, and Seymour Skinner called the Be Sharps. Barney was asked to join when the other members heard him singing in a beautiful tenor voice in the restroom of Moe's Tavern, replacing the group's original fourth member, Chief Wiggum, who was kicked out. In 1986, the Be Sharps won a Grammy Award for Outstanding Soul, Spoken Word, or Barbershop Album of the Year. Soon, creative disputes arose, and Barney left the group in all but name when he began dating a Japanese conceptual artist. The group realized that they were no longer popular and split up.
Barney was rescued from a tar pit by Bart's pet elephant Stampy in "Bart Gets an Elephant" and he also started a snowplowing business rivaling Homer's in "Mr. Plow". Barney's commercial defamed Homer, causing Homer to lose his customers. As revenge, Homer fooled Barney into plowing a driveway on Widow's Peak, a treacherous mountain just outside Springfield. When Homer saw a news report showing that Barney had become trapped in an avalanche, Homer immediately drove to the mountain and rescued Barney. The friends resolved their differences and agreed to work together. However, a heat wave hit Springfield at that exact moment, driving them both out of business. However, in the episodes "O Brother, Where Bart Thou?" and "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" it is shown that Barney still drives his Plow King truck.
After being forced to spend a sober night at Moe's Tavern serving as designated driver, Barney left town in Homer Simpson's car to, among other things, give a guest lecture at Villanova (although, by his own admission, the guest lecture could just have likely occurred on a street corner). A gag in "Selma's Choice" suggests that Barney is the father of many local babies born through (presumably, paid) donation of semen and the resulting artificial insemination.
Barney made a documentary film about his life as an alcoholic, titled Pukahontas. It won the top prize at the Springfield Film Festival. He was ready to quit drinking after winning the Festival, but unfortunately, the prize he received was a lifetime supply of Duff Beer. In "Deep Space Homer", Barney trained to become an astronaut for NASA. Under their alcohol-ban, he quickly regained his balance and diction and was quite appropriately selected to fly with Buzz Aldrin. However, he reverted to his old ways when he was presented with a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne. Barney served in the United States Navy Reserve as a submariner on the USS Jebediah, alongside his mother, in "Simpson Tide".
In "Days of Wine and D'oh'ses", after watching a video of his drunken antics at his birthday party, Barney resolves to get sober. He attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, cleans up his appearance, and attends helicopter-flying lessons. It was revealed in the fourteenth season episode "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can" that he had relapsed.