Beckel was born in New York City and grew up in Lyme, Connecticut. He is the son of Cambridge Graham Beckel Jr. (author of Workshops for the World: The United Nations Family of Agencies) and Ellen Gilliland Beckel. He is the older brother of actor Graham Beckel.
Beckel has a BA from Wagner College in Staten Island. While in college, he played football and worked for Robert F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1968.
After college, Beckel served in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1971 to 1972, and later was a graduate school professor of politics at George Washington University.
In 1977, Beckel joined the United States Department of State as deputy assistant secretary of state for congressional relations, becoming the youngest deputy assistant secretary of state in the Carter administration. In that role he helped to shepherd the Panama Canal Treaty through Congress to ratification. The following year was appointed special assistant to the president for legislative affairs, working on ratification of Salt II and Mideast treaties.
Beckel was the campaign manager for Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign. During that campaign he became known as the man who effectively wrapped the Wendy's slogan "Where's the beef?" around Gary Hart, Mondale's opponent for the Democratic nomination.
In late 1984 he formed the consulting firm Bob Beckel & Associates, or BBA, a lobbying firm that was succeeded in 1985 by Beckel–Cowan.
In 2002 Beckel managed the campaign of Alan Blinken, the Democratic nominee for United States Senate in Idaho, until he resigned after being targeted for extortion by a prostitute. In 2010, he made a brief appearance as himself on the Season 8 premiere of TV series 24 in a mock debate with fellow Fox News Analyst Monica Crowley.
In 2011, Beckel joined Fox News as a co-host of The Five and co-hosted some 708 episodes, until June 2015, when Fox announced that Beckel had left the program. A Fox spokesman said: "We couldn't hold The Five hostage to one man's personal issues." Beckel, whose last appearance on the show was in February 2015, had been absent while recovering from back surgery. According to FNC, "Bob Beckel has entered a rehab facility for treatment of an addiction to prescription pain medication." On January 16, 2017, Beckel rejoined The Five as co-host. On May 19, 2017, Bob Beckel was again fired from The Five for allegedly making an "insensitive remark" to an African American employee.
In October 2015, Beckel was hired by CNN to offer commentary on the 2016 election. In October 2016, after the Donald Trump and Billy Bush recording surfaced, Beckel stated "This race is over...you might as well accept it...."
From 2005 until the end of 2015, Beckel was a columnist for USA Today, where he wrote articles with friend and political opposite Cal Thomas in the style of "point–counterpoint."
In 1992 Beckel married Leland Ingham. They had two children from the marriage and divorced in 2002.
Beckel is a recovering alcoholic. He has spoken openly about his past addictions to drugs and alcohol, admitting in July 2011 on The Five: "I'm a recovering addict and cocaine was my drug of choice."
In 2007 Beckel claimed he was involved in an altercation in a Bethesda, Maryland, grocery store parking lot with a man who took issue with his anti–George W. Bush bumper stickers.
In October 2011, Beckel nearly choked to death on a piece of shrimp at a Fox News reception, but was saved by Fox News chief Roger Ailes and The Five co-host Eric Bolling.
In early 2015, Beckel was absent from The Five for a number of weeks, which led to speculation that he had been fired, but Fox later announced that his absence was due to "health-related issues," and it was later revealed that he had major back surgery on March 26 at a New York–area hospital.
Beckel is a Protestant.
In late 2015, Beckel published a memoir, I Should Be Dead: My Life Surviving Politics, TV, and Addiction, co-written with John David Mann.
Cal Thomas hosted a book-signing party celebrating publication of Beckel's book, which aired in November 2015 on C-SPAN.