Haldeman was born in Los Angeles, California the son of socially prominent parents. His father, who founded and ran a successful heating and air conditioning supply company, gave time and financial support to local Republican causes, while mother Betty was a longtime volunteer with the Salvation Army and other philanthropic organizations. Young Bob and his siblings Tom and Betsy were raised in the Christian Science faith. Known to his peers as a "straight arrow," he sported his trademark flat-top haircut from his high school years, enjoyed discussions of ethics, and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He attended Beverly Hills High School, where he met Jo (Joanne) Horton. They married in 1949.
A World War II Naval Reserve veteran, Haldeman attended the University of Redlands, the University of Southern California and graduated from UCLA in 1948, where he was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. It was at UCLA that he met his long time friend and later colleague in the Nixon White House, John Ehrlichman. After graduation, he spent 20 years working for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in both Los Angeles and New York City.
Nixon and Haldeman first met in the 1950s. Haldeman served as an advance man in Nixon's 1956 Vice Presidential campaign and then as Chief of Advance Men in his unsuccessful 1960 presidential campaign. Haldeman then served as Campaign Manager in Nixon's 1962 California gubernatorial campaign, also unsuccessful. He joined Nixon's successful 1968 presidential campaign underway as Chief of Staff and was credited with presenting a revitalized Richard Nixon to the public, using the experience of his many years in advertising.
Nixon named Haldeman as his first White House Chief of Staff.
When his appointment to the White House was announced, Robert Rutland, a close personal friend and eminent Presidential scholar, urged Bob Haldeman to start keeping a daily diary recording the major events of each day and Haldeman's thoughts on them. Bob Haldeman took this suggestion and started keeping and maintaining a daily diary throughout his entire career in the Nixon White House (January 18, 1969 to April 30, 1973). The full text of the diaries is almost 750,000 words.
Together with Ehrlichman they were called "The Berlin Wall" by other White House staffers in a play on their German-American backgrounds and shared penchant for keeping others away from Nixon and serving as his "gatekeepers". They became Nixon's most loyal and trusted aides during his presidency. Both were ruthless in protecting what they regarded as Nixon's best interests. Haldeman once said he was proud to be "Richard Nixon's son of a bitch", as he never shied away from firing staffers in person.
Haldeman was one of many key figures in the Watergate scandal. The unexplained 18 1/2 minute gap in Nixon's Oval Office recordings occurred during a discussion that included the President and Haldeman. After damaging testimony from White House Counsel John Dean, Nixon requested the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman in what has been described as a long and emotional meeting at Camp David. Dean was fired and the resignations were announced on April 30, 1973. It has been reported in reports not verified by either Nixon or Haldeman that after Nixon announced the resignations Haldeman called Nixon and in an emotional exchange Nixon ended it by saying, "I love you, as you know.....like a brother". On the eve of Nixon's resignation Haldeman asked for a full pardon along with a full pardon of Vietnam War draft dodgers. He argued that pardoning the dodgers would take some of the heat off him. Nixon refused.
On January 1, 1975, Haldeman was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice and sentenced to an 18-month prison sentence, which he served in Lompoc Federal Prison. Haldeman was released on December 20,1978.
In his post White House years, he went on to a successful career as a businessman, gaining an interest in hotels, development, real estate, and restaurants in Florida, among other investments. He was also a successful consultant to several start up companies.
In 1978, he co-authored The Ends of Power with Joseph Di Mona, in which he took responsibility for fostering the atmosphere in which Watergate flourished, a stark contrast from Ehrlichman who never forgave Nixon for not pardoning him. Also in the book, Haldeman explained Nixon's statement in the Watergate tapes that Watergate could "open up the whole Bay of Pigs thing". Haldeman said that "Bay of Pigs" was code for a CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. The CIA had not revealed this plot to the Warren Commission, the commission investigating the Kennedy assassination, despite the fact that it could point to a motive for Castro in the assassination. Using this information, director Oliver Stone, in his 1995 film Nixon, speculated that the missing 18 1/2 minutes of tape may have contained a discussion concerning a cover-up of the Kennedy assassination.
On November 12,1993 Haldeman died of undisclosed causes, sometimes reported as abdominal cancer, at his home in Santa Barbara, California. His remains were cremated and scattered at a site that has not been revealed. He was survived by his wife of almost 45 years, Jo, and their four children - Susan, Harry (Hank), Peter, and Ann. Upon his death Richard Nixon issued a statement, "I have known Bob Haldeman to be a man of rare intelligence, strength, integrity and courage....He played an indispensable role in turbulent times as our Administration undertook a broad range of initiatives at home and abroad."
Haldeman's White House diaries were released posthumously as The Haldeman Diaries in 1994. The Haldeman Diaries includes an Introduction and Afterward by noted Historian Stephen E. Ambrose.