In 86 BCE he succeeded his father as Prince of Changyi. When Emperor Zhao 漢昭帝 (r. 87-74 BCE) died in 74 BCE there was nor direct heir, so that the regent, General-in-chief (da jiangjun 大將軍) Huo Guang 霍光, consulted the Empress Dowager who suggested enthroning Liu He. Liu He was known for his inclination to pleasures already as a prince, yet in his position as emperor he exhibited an intolerable behaviour, so that Huo Guang deposed him after only 27 days of reign and transferred him to the distant commandery (jun 郡) of Fangling 房陵 (modern Fangxian 房縣, Hubei). His domain of Changyi was transformed into the commandery of Shanyang 山陽.
Emperor Xuan 漢宣帝 (r. 74-49 BCE), Liu He's successor, regularly sent out officials to inspect his mental state. He was, inspite of being rated as mad, given the title of Marquis of Haihun 海昏侯 and died five years later.