Neuberger was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and spent his childhood in New York. He was orphaned at the age of 12. He describes himself as having been interested during high school in tennis and "the ladies". He matriculated at New York University, originally to study journalism, but grew restless and dropped out to pursue business, without a college degree, instead.
His first job was working in a Manhattan department store called B. Altman's, through which he learned the ins and outs of business. Among the things he practiced selling were paintings, which nurtured his love of art.
After his job with B. Altman's, he sailed to Europe at age 20 on an inheritance from his parents and went to live in Paris. He lived his bohemian, Roaring Twenties existence there, where he visited the Louvre three times a week and met his lifelong friend Meyer Shapiro. He painted and studied art throughout his whole duration, until in 1928 he read Floret Fels' biography of Vincent Van Gogh.
Neuberger was startled when he learned how Van Gogh had only sold one painting, and was heartstricken to learn that he, like so many other artists, lived in pain, poverty and misery. Thousands of excellent artists were suffering in obscurity and the world might never know what they had painted, sculpted and etched. Neuberger sought to give all of the artists of his day a chance at fame, recognition and financial success for their art.
To accomplish this, Neuberger decided to use the business skills he had acquired to start a business that would get him rich, thereby allowing him to acquire and publicize works of art from his contemporary unknowns. He moved back to the United States and entered Wall Street in 1929. It was seven months before Black Tuesday. He started out with Halle & Steiglitz and sold short RCA shares, right through the stock market crash and well into the Great Depression. He founded Neuberger & Berman in 1939 with Robert Berman. By then he had made enough money to buy the first painting that he would lend to rocket the artist to fame: Peter Hurd's Boy from the Plains. He allowed Nelson Rockefeller, another avid art collector, to use Boy from the Plains in a travelling American art exhibition. Rockefeller's exhibition travelled to South America, and many people in both South and North America were now exposed to the art of Hurd.
Among the other artists who have been propelled to fame and success through Neuberger's donations are Jackson Pollock, Ben Shahn, William Baziotes, Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Louis Eilshemius, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Jack Levine, David Smith and especially Milton Avery, of whose works Neuberger purchased dozens and donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and many of museums. The first Avery he ever purchased was Gaspé Landscape, which he bought while it was snowing and wrapped neatly specially before going out during the snowstorm, determined to keep the painting intact to make the man famous. Neuberger still has Gaspé Landscape up in his apartment to this very day.
His friend Nelson Rockefeller later became governor of New York and set up the State University of New York system. For his friend Neuberger, Rockefeller set up a museum as part of the new university where Neuberger could display the art he had acquired. With the help of architect Philip Johnson, the Neuberger Museum of Art was built on the SUNY Purchase College campus and opened in 1974.
Although of Jewish descent, Neuberger absolutely avoids anything to do with religion and is a staunch atheist who has admitted he was never able to understand the appeal of spirituality, especially Judaism. This attitude has estranged him from his son, Roy Neuberger, Jr., who found his life growing up without religion empty and turned to Judaism to fill the gap in his life.
Neuberger is a truly appreciative art collector who will look at his pieces again and again -- he says he finds something new every time. Adventurous, savvy and skilled at making quick decisions, Neuberger has demonstrated throughout his life the intuition and understanding of human taste to allow him both to foresee successful investments and to recognize budding artists who will prove to have public appeal.
In recent years he has been romantically linked with Kitty Carlisle.