Life and death of Stalin's 'little sparrow' who flew far away

She defected to the West but Lana Peters was never able to escape the shadow of her tyrannical father

The lone daughter of Joseph Stalin has died at her home in Wisconsin nearly 45 years after defecting to the United States and penning two best-selling memoirs about her life in the Soviet Union as the beloved offspring of one of history's most brutal tyrants.

After losing a fight with colon cancer, Lana Peters, the name taken after her marriage in 1970 to the American architect, William Wesley Peters, died on 22 November in Richland Centre, Wisconsin, at the age of 85.

Born Svetlana Stalina on 28 February 1926, Ms Peters led a life in several epic acts that took her from a privileged childhood in the Kremlin where she was her father's "little sparrow" to adult years of incessant wandering that saw her stumble between husbands, continents, faiths and even names. It was an itinerant and seemingly lonely existence that took her to different corners of the US and also, briefly in the early Eighties, to Britain.

One constant was that she was the daughter of one of the world's most reviled dictators. "I will always be a political prisoner of my father's name," she told the Wisconsin State Journal last year. "He was a very simple man," she told the paper. "Very rude. Very cruel. There was nothing in him that was complicated. He was very simple with us. He loved me and he wanted me to be with him and become an educated Marxist."

Ms Peters grabbed the attention of the Western media in 1967. Bereft of the privileges she had enjoyed before the death of her father in 1953, she had already dropped his name in favour of her mother's, Alliluyeva. Already twice-divorced, she was allowed to leave Moscow for Delhi with the ashes of an Indian communist whom she had been forbidden to marry. In the Indian capital she made a dash for the US embassy and asked for asylum.

Once in the US, she denounced the Communist system and wrote her two memoirs, Twenty Letters To A Friend, which earned her a reported $2.5m and Only One Year. After being invited to visit the Arizona compound of the late architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1970, she fell in love with and then married Mr Peters, who had been a protégé of Mr Wright. They had a daughter, Olga, who now lives in Oregon, but were divorced in 1973.

Over the ensuing years, Ms Peters dabbled with Christian Science and Hinduism. After a few years living in California, she took off again, this time for England, where she enrolled Olga in a boarding school. But 1984 saw her returning to Moscow, where she was reunited with a son from a previous marriage.

Once there, she denounced the West. Yet two years later she was back in the US saying her anti-West statements had been mistranslations.

Her later years appear to have been lived in obscurity and relative penury. She even spent time in a cabin in northern Wisconsin. Speaking once of witnessing her father's death from a stroke, she said he raised his hand as he took his last breath "as though he were pointing to something above and bringing down a curse on us all".

Her story: 'You can't regret your fate'

What she told The Independent in an interview in 1990:

"I don't any longer have the pleasant illusion that I can be free of the label 'Stalin's daughter', and it was partly my own fault, because I could never emerge in my own capacity. I lived my life the way I could – though I could have lived it better – within a certain limited framework called Fate. You can't regret your fate, though I do regret my mother didn't marry a carpenter. I was born under that name, and I never managed to jump out of it. I just passively followed the road of my pilgrimage. My childhood was a happy time. My father was very demonstrative, holding me on his lap and cuddling me. I was his favourite because I resembled his mother and he would say: 'It's ridiculous, it's just funny how much you look like my mother!' This pleased him."